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Nobody seems yet to have nominated the already very special 2020 as The Year of the Sailing Club, or more accurately as The Year of the Irish Sailing Club. So here in we’re just going to do that very thing right now. Let’s hear it for our Irish sailing clubs, our sometimes crazy clubs in all their wonderful diversity, their huge levels of voluntary enthusiasm, and the remarkable achievements afloat of their members - both at home and abroad - particularly when set against the small population of the island.

Admittedly, in the big picture, 2020 is still primarily the Year of Cork300. But it is the inspiring example set 300 years ago by the pioneering sailors of Cork in establishing what became in time the Royal Cork Yacht Club which means that, in 2020, so many Irish sailing clubs will have their own special anniversaries to celebrate.

cork week racing2In-harbour racing during Cork Week. The inspiration from the founding of the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork in 1720 has filtered through into a tradition of long-lived Irish sailing clubs 

Sports clubs can be very odd organisations. While comparisons can easily find close similarities among them, each is unique in its own way, and those involved can only hope their club – which relies so much on voluntary effort – will continue to develop its own almost self-sustaining vitality to provide the continuity which is a golden thread running through the community in which it aspires to thrive.

Most of us will accept that our beloved clubs are not perfect. But nor is parliamentary democracy as a way of national government. Yet it seems to be more acceptable than any of the alternatives, provided that everyone realizes it is something which won’t run on its own – democracy is hard work, requiring vigilance and the constant monitoring of one’s own mindset. That is easy enough to say, but extremely difficult to maintain on a day-to-day basis.

Equally, a successful sailing club is not just for regatta days. On the contrary, its spirit has to be sustained on a year-round basis. And the fascinating thing about the history of recreational sailing is that Ireland has – almost by accident – been a world leader in the development of the concept of the successful yacht and sailing club.

Three weeks ago, we had a preview here of the 2020 sailing season, which was deliberately structured around the fact that the over-arching reality in 2020 is the Tricentenary of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, an anniversary which may trip easily enough off the tongue, but it’s extremely difficult to grasp in all its true meaning.

After all, the Club in Cork had already been actively in existence for 56 years – inspiring masterpieces of maritime art and gems of historical writing – when the United States of America was founded in 1776. For many folk, that’s when history really began. Yet by the time the fledgeling nation across the Atlantic was beginning began to flex its muscles, the Club in Cork had seen its Golden Jubilee, and was functioning as a sporting and social organisation for the benefit of its fellow-minded members in a way which we can easily recognize today.

lough ree yacht club3Summertime at Lough Ree Yacht Club, which has been quietly going about its business of providing boating and sailing for 250 years. Photo: W M Nixon

The celebrations of the Royal Cork will be at their peak throughout the month of July in a mind-boggling programme which continues to be refined, and then in August they’ll be staging at least three major dinghy championships. But while this week’s Sailing on Saturdays may be concentrating on other aspects of 2020’s fixtures list at other venues, no matter how widely we spread the net, it is the long history of Ireland’s sailing clubs which is a recurring theme.

When the US finally emerged in 1776, there’d been another sailing club already functioning Ireland at Athlone on Lough Ree for six years. That club is now Lough Ree Yacht Club, founded in 1770. They’ll be celebrating their Quarter Millennium through 2020, reminding us that while the Water Club may have been founded on the sea in 1720, it was within the notably sheltered harbour of Cork. Thus lakes were to play a prominent role in early sailing development elsewhere in Ireland, with Lough Erne Yacht Club coming into being in 1820 (there’s a Bicentenary there), while Sligo Yacht Club first saw the light of day on the freshwater of Lough Gill in 1821, even if these days the club is so closely associated with Rosses Point on the Atlantic Seaboard.

gp14s lough erne4GP 14s on Lough Erne, where Lough Erne YC has been in existence since at least 1820. The thriving Irish GP 14 Association will be extra-busy in 2020 with the Worlds at Skerries Sailing Club at the end of July. Photo: Andy Johnston

The contribution to the development of Irish sailing on the East Coast by the construction (started 1817) of Dun Laoghaire Harbour on the otherwise rather exposed Dublin Bay is fundamental to the story, and new clubs soon followed, with the first manifestation of the Royal Irish YC in 1831 showing the way for a harbour which – thanks to the proximity of the capital city and its energy and affluence – was soon to play a leading role in national and international sailing development.

The energy and resources of the Great Dublin area quicken the pace, and today the Leinster coastline between Skerries and Wicklow and beyond is home to a variety of clubs all of which seek ways of responding to the demands for forms of sailing to suit the way we live now, and the kind of boats we sail.

Thus for those who were much involved at the time, it doesn’t seem so very long ago that Howth Yacht Club celebrated its Centenary in 1995 with an extensive, entertaining and challenging programme afloat, while ashore there were the likes of Gala Balls and the publication of a comprehensive club history.

Yet although Howth continues to sail its established One Design classes including the 1898-vintage Howth 17s, the Puppeteer 22s, and the Squibs while continuing to support cruiser-racers including Ireland’s premier group of Half Tonners at one end of the size scale, with many notably successful Lasers and Optimists and assorted dinghy classes at the other, things have changed significantly in that many of these boats are now being sailed by new people who weren’t part of the Howth sailing scene a quarter of a century ago – in fact, many of the best of them hadn’t even been born.

howth yacht club5Howth in 1995, when HYC celebrated its Centenary. The clubhouse has since been extended to complete the curve of the “marquee roof”. Photo: Jaimie Blandford

They missed the HYC Centenary in 1995, but they take such a refreshing delight in this place where they now sail that they see no reason why the 125th Anniversary of Howth Yacht Club shouldn’t be celebrated with the same enthusiasm. The rest of the membership have happily allowed themselves to be swept up in this fresh wave of zest in sailing, which will include a celebratory HYC Cruise-in-Company in the Irish Sea in June.

That said, both Lough Ree YC in celebrating their 250th, Lough Erne with their 200th and Howth with their 125th are giving due respect to the Royal Cork YC’s unique position. But while generally allowing that July is mainly Cork-focussed, they will be stepping up their home programmes to accommodate their members’ rising expectations, and an overview of 2020’s highlights across Irish sailing gives some flavour of this.


April 16th – 19th Youth Nationals & Optimist Trials Howth YC

Already very much a major event, it is now even more so with the addition of the 29er to established classes including Laser Radial, Laser 4.7, Int 420, Int Topper and Optimist to provide a high octane regatta to get Howth 125 under way.

April 18th Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association first race

An organisation which skillfully tailors its programme to suit the realities of modern life, ISORA’s first race of 2020 is a coastal on the Welsh side at Pwllheli, then the following weekend there’s the inaugural coastal for the Irish side at Dublin Bay, and then on May 2nd the fleets from both sides of the Channel get together for the Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead Race along a course which has its origins in the 1860s or even earlier.

One of the ISORA highlights for 2020 will be the re-staging of the famous Dublin Bay to Cork Harbour Race of 1860 on 9th July, bringing the Irish Sea boats to the RCYC Tricentenary in a special event which has a points weighting of 1.2 in the ISORA championship. The annual season-long championship - in which Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI is defending champion – concludes with the Pwllheli to Dun Laoghaire race on September 5th, favourably weighted at 1.3 points to encourage the fleet to stay keen to season’s end.

tarbert loch fyne6Tarbert on Loch Fyne, where the Scottish Series has provided a successful hunting ground for many Irish boat

May 22nd-25th Scottish Series

In 2019, this was a very happy hunting ground for Irish boats, with Andrew Craig’s J/109 Chimaera (RIYC) leading the charge to take the overall prize from Pat Kelly’s sister-ship Storm from Rush, while class wins were also recorded by Jay Colville’s First 40 Forty Licks from East Down and Jonny Swan’s Half Tonner Harmony from Howth, and there was a special award for John and Brian Hall’s J/109 Something Else (NYC)

May 29th – 31st Wave Regatta Howth YC

The main highlight of the many specials in HYC’s 125th Anniversary programme, this unique biennial mixture of old-style regatta, modern rock concert and 21st Century take on Howth’s time-honoured Lambay Race has something for everyone, while the eclectic collection of boats and classes taking it on makes life afloat as diverse as it is ashore – “Wave float, rave ashore” was 2018’s catch-phrase.

Checkmate xv halfton7Dave Cullen’s Half Tonner Checkmate XV on her way to winning the Half Ton Classic Worlds in Belgium in 2018. Earlier that year, she had been overall winner of the inaugural Wave Regatta at Howth

Somehow, even an overall winner was found, in Dave Cullen’s immaculate classic Half Tonner Checkmate XV. In 2020, she and the other four Howth Half Ton Classics will be building their campaigns towards the RORC-hosted Half Ton Classics Cup in Cowes (Checkmate XV is defending champion in this biennial challenge) from 26th to 31st July. It’s a measure of their enthusiasm that all five Howth-based Classic Half Tonners are planning to do the multi-championship Volvo Cork Week from July 13th to 17th, and then their roadies (sometimes the skippers themselves) will be busy to get all five to Cowes in the best spirit of Howth 125 and Cork 300.

May 30th – June 1st Clinkerfest Lough Ree Yacht Club

Lough Ree’s Bicentenary programme ashore will be inaugurated as early as January 4th 2020, and by April they’re sailing. But the scene afloat really gets into top gear with this intriguingly-titled event, which offers infinite possibilities. The elegant clinker-built Shannon One Designs may be the backbone of LRYC, but the likewise clinker-constructed Dublin Bay Water Wags are no strangers to sailing at the hospitable club, and when we add in other qualifying clinker classics such as the Mermaids, the IDRA 14s and the growing numbers of the vintage International 12s just for starters, we’re looking at a really fascinating three day regatta which could easily exceed its target of a hundred classic wooden boats.

June 10th to 14th - Sesquicentennial Regatta National YC

Two evenings and one day of racing is the celebratory programme outlined to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire. Racing will be in association with DBSC and ISORA and include cruisers, one designs, dinghies & Wags.  As befitting the 150th anniversary, NYC Regatta Director Con Murphy says it will be bigger than the traditional Saturday club regatta by being a multi evening/days event from 10-14th June with racing for keelboats on Thursday and Friday evenings as well as the normal racing on the Saturday. Dinghies will have racing on Friday evening and Saturday, Waterwags on the Wednesday and Friday evenings and ISORA boats on Thursday and Friday evenings and all day Saturday. For cruiser and keelboat classes, the races on Thursday evening will be run by DBSC per their standard Thursday courses and be scored in the regatta results.

shannon one design8Classic Shannon One Design in a breeze. The elegant clinker-built hulls are expected to be flexible, and when sailed hard there’s a visible twist, while in a strong wind “they’d turn round and look at you”.

June 20th Round Ireland Race. Wicklow SC 

It’s the 40th Anniversary of this biennial classic. And even here there’s no getting away from the long arm of the Royal Cork YC, for it was the first participation by Denis Doyle of Cork with his beloved Moonduster in the second race of 1982 that set this 704-mile challenge firmly in the Irish and international programme. The race has matured into a “must-do” for many sailors from home and abroad (it’s particularly popular with the French), and the winner in 2018 was the Dutch-origined Ker 43 Baraka GP chartered by Niall Dowling (RIYC) and navigated by the peerless Ian Moore to a win of stylish brilliance. For 2020 the gallant organisers in Wicklow SC are thinking in terms of 60 boats on the line, and they’re expected to include Paul O’Higgins JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI, which in her three seasons in his ownership has twice won the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race and has also added the ICRA Nats and the ISORA Championship to her laurels, but the Round Ireland has until now been frustrating despite two challenges.

June 24th to 27th WIORA Championship Tralee Bay SC

When you’re north of the Blaskets on the mighty Atlantic seaboard, you have to create your own programmes, and this date best suited the men and women of the west, with the McCormack family of Foynes the defending champions.

sigma 33 bangor town regatta9The Sigma 33 Impulz (C D & M Johnston) in Bangor Town Regatta 2018. The 2020 Edition will include the Sigma 33 Championship. Photo: Andrew Gallagher

June 25th – 28th Bangor Town Regatta Royal Ulster YC

This combination of serious championships and traditional township regatta proved to be a winning formula when it was unveiled in 2018, and for 2020 they’re super-tuning a successful menu. It will include key races for the season-long RC35 Championship (in which Pat Kelly’s J/09 Storm of Rush and Howth is champion), and will also feature the peripatetic Sigma 33 Championship, which was a highlight of 2019’s Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta to celebrate 40 years of the Sigma 33 - the defending champion is from Scotland, Leaky Roof 2 from Cove SC sailed by Alan Harper and Kirsty & Eric Robertson.

July 4th to 11th Laser Radial Youth European Championship, Ballyholme YC

It’ll be busy in Bangor in late June and early July. They’ll have barely tidied up after the Bangor Town Regatta before the focus swings to Ballyholme YC and the massive challenge of staging the Laser Radial Youth Europeans 2020. It’s massive because fleet numbers can go stratospheric – 2019’s in Athens saw Spain’s Ana Moncada top the Girl’s Gold Fleet, while Karim Sofiana (France) was the boys’ champion in a total fleet of 252. The word is that Ballyholme is gearing up for 300-plus, even though this is a high-calibre championship with a restricted entry allocation.

laser radial 2019 youth euros10The Laser radial Youth Euros in 2019 at Athens attracted a fleet of 252 boats, with winners from Spain and France

July 8th Cowes to Cork Race (Morgan Cup) RORC

The RORC are putting their full support behind the Cork 300 celebrations by bringing their fleet to Ireland through making their annual Morgan Cup contest a 324-mile Cowes to Cork Race, and giving it a 1.3 points weighting in their season-long championship. Yje Morgan Cup winner in 2019 was the J/109 Just So, raced two-handed by William McGough and Christian Jeffrey in a result which shows the possibilities of this significant element in the Cork300 celebrations.

j109 just so11The J/109 Just So (William McGough & Christian Jeffrey) may have been in the Two-handed Division in the RORC’s 2019 Morgan Cup Race, but she won overall. Photo RORC/Rick Tomlinson

July 9th Dun Laoghaire to Cork Race, ISORA

This is the re-staging of the renowned contest of 1860, when 16 boats of many sizes – some of them enormous – raced from Dublin Bay to an extremely close light weather early-morning finish off the historic Royal Cork premises on the Cobh waterfront. Surely a “must-do” for anyone who wants to sail with the great yet friendly spirits of Irish sailing history.

With the two big feeder races completed, everyone is in Cork, and the best impression of what’s going to happen is to be found here:

rcys cork300 poster12

While the action in Cork continues until well into August by which time the dinghy fleets have taken over, after the Fleet Review of July 12th the many cruisers from several organisations will start slipping away down towards West Cork, and Glandore is poised to be their first port of call:

July 18th to 24th Glandore Classics Regatta Glandore Harbour YC

The presence of so many cruising clubs and association on the south coast thanks to Cork300 is expected to bring spin-off benefits in numbers to Glandore’s biennial boatfest, and not least of the attractions is that until much nearer the time, we simply don’t know which truly extraordinary historic vessel is going to steal the show.

July 18th – 19th Double Ree Lough Ree YC

In an era when hosting single-handers can easily provide impressive fleet numbers, for some years Lough Ree YC has been promoting a special Regatta aimed solely at two-handed dinghies, and under the umbrella of the Ree 250 celebrations, 2020’s will have a special edge.

gp14s mounts bay13GP 14s racing below St Michael’s Mount in Mounts Bay in Cornwall in their 2018 World Championship in which Katie Dwyer and Michelle Rowley of Sutton Dinghy Club were timed at 10.5 knots.

July 26th to 31st GP 14 World Championship Skerries SC

In Ireland, the GP 14 is not so much a successful Class Association as a benign force of nature, through which they do things their own successful way. The 2020 Worlds at Skerries will be a large turnout high-stakes event. It’s biennial, and in 2018’s in Mounts Bay in Cornwall with a fleet of 119, the winners were England’s Mike Senior and Chris White with Irelands Ross Kearney second. But in 2016 in Barbados, the winner was Shane McCarthy of Greystones, currently on a roll by taking the 2019 Irish Open Nationals at Skerries in August 2019. It’s typical of the enthusiasm of the Association that somehow they’re able to tell you not just who wins the Worlds, but who recorded the best figures in speed bursts, with Neil Marsden and Derek Hill of Fleetwood tops at 10.9 knots, while Ireland’s own Katie Dwyer and Michelle Rowley of Sutton Dinghy Club clocked 10.5.

July 26th – August 8th. Olympic Games Enoshima, Japan

We have a place in the Laser Radials thanks to Aisling Keller of Lough Derg YC, but the sailor filling it is still open to competition among four helms in the first four months of 2020.

rockabill vi schull14Paul O’Higgins’ JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI (RIYC) racing in Calves Week at Schull. Photo: Robert Bateman

August 4th to 7th Calves Week Schull Harbour SC

Fun racing with a serious edge - it sounds like an internally contradicting formula, but among the sublime sailing water of Carbery’s Hundred Isles, it certainly works

August 4th to 6th RS200/RS 400 Nats. Rush SC

Late July and early August will by hyper-busy on the Fingal coast as the bubbles settle after the GP 14s Worlds at Skerries, and clubs close to the southward leap to life

August 4th to 6th J/24 Nationals Howth YC

The J/24 is very much the boat of choice among a certain set, and many who sail it as it revives in Ireland are to be found on other boats as well. Defending champion is Headcase helmed by Cillian Dickson of Lough Ree and Howth, sailing with co-owners who come from all over the country.

2019 fireball worlds15The 2019 Fireball Worlds in Canada, in which the first four places went to four different nations. The 2020 Worlds will be at Howth from August 6th to 14th.

August 6th to 14th Fireball Worlds Howth YC

Another major in HYC’s 125th-year celebrations, this lengthy schedule includes the Fireball Irish Nationals and the pre-Worlds. The 2019 Worlds were in Canada at the friendly Point Claire YC in Montreal, and the winners were Ian Dobson & Richard Wagstaff (UK), while Silver went to Heather McFarlane & Chris Payne of Australia with France’s Ludovic Collin and Remy Thuillier taking the Bronze, fourth going to Switzerland’s Claude Mermod & Ruedi Moser.

August 14th to 16th Cruinniu na mBad Kinvara

The great Kinvara celebration of the maritime culture of the west and the magnificent traditional boats which sail there is now in its 41st year and still going strong, developing intriguing new facets with each passing year.

cruinniu na mbad16 Kinvara bound – a majestic Galway hooker heads for Kinvara and Cruinniu na Mbad – the Gathering of the Boats.

August 29th to 30th BJ Marine Taste of Greystones Regatta Greystones SC

Time for Down Home Time. The boats of south Leinster have returned from their voyaging and racing adventures, the Autumn is upon us, and Greystones awaits them with hospitable abundance

September 3rd to 11th Dragon Gold Cup Kinsale Yacht Club

One of European sailing’s most historic trophies brings an international fleet of the elegant and timeless Dragons to one of Ireland’s high-quality sailing venues. Winner in 2019 was Portugal’s Pedro Andrade racing at Medemblik in The Netherlands.

 September 5th James C Eadie Cup Race: Pwllheli-Dun Laoghaire ISORA

We’ve mentioned it before, it deserves mention again as the Irish Sea programme draws to a close in a race which, in 2019, saw the ISORA Annual Championship decided in its last few miles

September 18th to 20th SB20 Nationals Lough Ree YC

The last big event of the LRYC 250th, in 2019 the SB20 representative Michael O’Connor went on to become the All-Ireland Champion racing in Flying Fifteens, so there’s an extra edge here.

September 26th to 27th All-Ireland Junior Championship

The venue is still to be confirmed, but the date is definite. 2019’s Junior Champion Chris Bateman turned 18 in September, but in any case he’s now more interested in 49er racing

October 3rd to 4th All-Ireland Helmsman’s Championship Royal Cork YC

A fitting conclusion to the extraordinary Cork 300 celebrations an the 2020 season. It rounded out the Quarter Millennial celebrations back in 1970, and five of the six finalists from that are still happily with us, so we can expect something very special.

greystones marina sunset17The Autumn closes in, and North County Wicklow is ready with the hospitality for the BJ Marine “Taste of Greystones” Regatta hosted by Greystones Sailing Club.

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Here in the Sailing on Saturday verbiage production complex in a hidden bunker under a nameless hill off an un-named coast of Ireland, all this maundering-on about a gloomy future for sailing in general and Irish sailing, in particular, passes us by completely. For we’re too busy dealing - with only moderate success - with a hyper-busy and continuous throughput of interesting and usually good news about sailing things that interest us, and achievements by sailors that we admire.

Thus of late, our attention has been particularly piqued by Guy and Jackie Kilroy’s restoration of the 1896 classic cutter Marguerite which they successfully commissioned from the multi-talented Larry Archer. And as we write this, it’s all over the sailing news that the equally multi-talented Laura Dillon has just won a race in the Classics Division of the 190-strong International Dragon fleet (190 boats still as keen as mustard to a 1929 design - what can one say?) in the 90th Anniversary Regatta in San Remo, and all that just a few days after she came third overall in the British Open J/70 Championship.

marguerite restored2The latest addition to Dun Laoghaire’s growing classic boat flotilla - aboard the restored 1896-built Marguerite (Guy & Jacky Kilroy) in Dublin Bay in September. Photo: Ian Malcolm
Laura Dillon is, of course, the only woman who has ever won the All-Ireland Helmsmans Championship which - when she did it in 1996 - was hailed as a great leap forward, the breaking of the glass gender ceiling at the top of our sport. Yet she remains the only woman sailor to have done it.

laura dillon3Top helm Laura Dillon, still the only woman to have won the All-Ireland Sailing Championship. 
So how do we get more women up there too? For only she and Annalise Murphy have remained at the top of our sport for a long and consistent time. The simple answer is find another Laura Dillon, for she is that rare thing, a true sailing polymath. Like Harry Cudmore in his prime, she can step aboard any boat and make it go faster. And maybe most importantly of all, she conveys a sense of enjoyment and interest which says everything about the popular potential of sailing without having to bellow it from the rooftops. But she does it as a sailor first, so much so that the fact that she’s a woman doesn’t really enter the discussion.

That said, getting more women involved as sailors rather than sailor-supporters is an area which needs exploration, for our national body Irish Sailing has to recognise that, in some areas, participation numbers are dropping. And throughout the country, you’ll always find somebody in some club who is wondering about whether or not the established model of the Irish yacht and sailing club is truly relevant any more.

Irish sailing was booming to such a lunatic extent during the growth towards the Celtic Tiger years that at one stage we were fielding three different three-boat teams for the biennial Commodores Cup series in the Solent, billed as the World Championship of offshore racing. Not only were we fielding thee different teams, but it was such a crazy time that wearing the green jersey was meaningless – the Irish teams were racing against each other with even more determination than they were racing against the teams of other nations. And to top it all out, Ger O’Rourke of Kilrush then became overall winner of the 2007 Rolex Fastnet Race with his Cookson 50 Chieftain, undoubtedly the highest of the high points.

Chieftain finishs fastnet4The high point of the boom years of sailing – Ger O’Rourke’s Cookson 50 Chieftain crosses the finish line at Plymouth to become overall winner of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2007. Photo: Rolex
It all ended in tears not because of a clash of loyalties among our Commodore’s Cup teams, but because the national economy fell off a cliff in 2008. It took time for this to become evident in some areas of activity, but in the world of high-end privately-funded offshore racing, the effect was almost instantaneous. Top boats and top owners simply disappeared like snow off a ditch.

In time – jig time in some cases - it spread steadily down through every aspect of sailing until the National Authority - the Irish Sailing Association as it then was - had to implement a ruthless cost-cutting scheme in many of its activities, followed by the 2014 introduction of a five year plan based on a Strategic Review to keep the Association in good health. As for the clubs - which had been thriving in an almost dangerous fashion - they’d to make their own arrangements for survival. And though there were some very close squeaks, by and large we still have the same clubs, and indeed some new ones, as we had in 2008.

Meanwhile the Irish Sailing Association re-branded itself as Irish Sailing, and as CEO Harry Hermon has put it, the 2014 Five Year Plan was basically about putting in place and maintaining the essential pillars of the national sailing administration.

This has been largely successful, but it has been happening in a rapidly changing leisure environment which challenges one interpretation of Irish Sailing’s slogan of “Sailing - a Sport for Life”. Many people now approach their leisure interests on a sort of Tasting Menu basis, trying one thing one weekend and another the next. Claiming something is a sport for life is not necessarily a winning USP. And under-pinning it all these days is a very strong emphasis of doing it in a family-together way.

This is blush-making for those of us in the old school of sailing, who used to bid farewell to the wife and kids every Friday or even earlier, either with dinghy in tow down the road, or aboard an offshore racer, with every intention of being absent and totally boat-absorbed until Sunday evening or Monday morning.

That has all changed. Dare one say it, but to some extent maybe we can “blame” it on the availability of divorce, of which in Ireland – let it be said – we are still mercilessly unenthusiastic. Yet not so many years ago, many of us can remember completely estranged couples who led parallel lives within the same household, but the weekend escape in different directions - whether it be for golf or sailing or whatever – was the only thing which kept the situation tolerable.

In those days, the expression “Fun for All the Family” was considered something of a quaint joke, but nowadays it’s an essential first requirement for any leisure activity which wants to expand its base – or even maintain its position – in an increasingly challenging market.

david obrien rcyc5David O’Brien, Admiral of the Royal Cork YC from 2002-2004, is chairing Irish Sailing’s Steering Committee for the Strategic Review to create the Five Year Plan for 2020-2025. 

So for the month of October, Irish Sailing has been convening research groups – open to all - at key locations throughout the country, guided by a Steering Committee chaired by former RCYC Admiral David O’Brien, with Harry Hermon as convenor and the members including Fiona Bolger of Baltimore SC, former Howth Yacht Club Commodore Brian Turvey, and PR guru and sailor Sarah O’Connor. Their mission is to find out how our sport really is doing at the grassroots, and where it might go, with professional guidance from sports administration consultants Sarah O’Shea and Lisa Clancy.

The sessions have been in Cork, Clare, Mayo, Greystones and Howth, on a two-hour schedule with focus groups dealing with specific areas on four topics apiece, concluding with a synthesis. You might well think two hours is a very long time for a distinctly Autumnal night, but we could have comfortably used another hour, and the ideas and information flowed thick and fast in the Howth assembly this week, which was attended by no less than nine different clubs – not just the local ones in the Greater Dublin area, but folk from Dunmore East in Waterford and Mullaghmore in Sligo too.

harry hermon6Harry Hermon, CEO of Irish sailing, speaking at this week’s meeting in Howth. Photo: Brian Turvey
In an era when club ownership of boats is increasing in order to broaden the overall appeal of the club “product”, the basic and often brutal cost of boat ownership naturally loomed large. At our table, Richard Colwell, Commodore of ICRA, quipped that: “Everyone wants to be a boat owner on Wednesday night, but then be clear of it again until the next race on Saturday”. That just about sums it up, but of course the problem is that when a club has a varied fleet available for charter – the Royal St George, for instance, now owns upwards of 60 boats, they’re mostly small ones but they’ve J/80s and 1720s and a cruiser-racer donated by a former Commodore too – the imminent arrival of good weather can see a rush to take out bookings.

richard colwell7Richard Colwell, Commodore of the Irish Cruiser-Racing Association, commented this week that everybody wants to be a boat-owner when a race is on - it’s the in-between periods which are difficult……

And then of course, no matter who owns the boats, there’s always maintenance and winter storage. The reality is that in Dublin in particular, the marine industry infrastructure bears no proper relationship to the demands which can arise when, for instance, a World Championship is being staged, while the total lack of shed space anywhere near the waterfront means that the Royal St George YC keep their flotillla of J/80s in the winter in the corner of a warehouse in Edenderry. For those who don’t know the Irish Midlands, Edenderry is about halfway to Athlone, and a lot longer when you add in the inevitable M50 congestion.

All these problems relate to sailing being a vehicle sport, and don’t even begin to address the way it is perceived as an activity, and how accessible or interesting it is to the general public. The brutal fact of the matter is that unless somebody has been drowned or an Olympic medal has been won, sailing scarcely registers on the public or government radar at all, and one nugget of useful thinking which emerged from our session is that it is up to sailing to look after itself, and not expect the authorities – whomsoever they may be – to provide the necessary vision from above.

Thus when the old chestnut about sailing being officially on the school curriculum in France came up, and why can’t we hope for that in Ireland, it was pointed out that in many places in Ireland it is happening already, without any fancy directorate being handed down by the Mandarins of the Department of Education. The local schools and sailing club just get together and get on with it, but because it involves ordinary healthy active schoolchildren taking part in a sport which they find interesting and in which they cause no trouble to anyone else, it’s Good News and therefore Not Really News At All.

aisling keller dromineer8Laser Radial champion Aisling Keller leading the fleet at Dromineer, where she was introduced to sailing thanks to a locally-organised link-up between her school in Nenagh and Lough Derg YC.
This, in turn, led to a useful exchange about how helpful it can be when clubs interact directly with each other, not just through the long-established Reciprocal Membership schemes, but in getting on with it, and organizing events up to international level. Thus the successful Galway Bay Sailing Club Cruise-in-Company to Lorient in Brittany in July was organised directly between GBSC and the Yacht Club de Lorient, which sent participating boats to Galway to cruise back with the Irish contingent. Apart from a bit of communication help from the French consul in Galway, it was all done directly inter-club, thereby minimizing the layers of bureaucracy, and it succeeded through a very welcome lightness of touch and mutual goodwill.

galway lorient fleet hughtown9The Galway Bay SC fleet in Hughtown in the Isles of Scilly during their Cruise-in-Company to Lorient in Brittany in July, which was organized directly as an international inter-club event involving GBSC and Yacht Club de Lorient
Thus if clubs are concerned for their own future, they need to become self-reliant and interact dynamically with their local community. But the official authorities in that local community have in their turn to realize that the bricks-and-mortar establishments which are traditional yacht and sailing clubs are operating in a very changed and challenging environment from the situation when they were built. They have to become much more commercial in their approach to promoting sailing on a businesslike basis – an approach strongly advocated by HYC Commodore Ian Byrne - and the existing planning laws may no longer be relevant to the reality of sailing and club life in the 2020s and beyond.

ian byrne10Ian Byrne, Commodore of Howth YC, racing his Sunfast 3200 Sunburn, while he also has a part share in a 112-year-old Howth Seventeen. He is firmly of the opinion that in today’s recreational climate, Ireland’s yacht clubs have to be more commercial in their approach to the many services they provide.
Just how much consideration all this receives from the new Irish Sailing Five Year Plan we’ll learn at the organisation’s AGM next March, when the outcome of this latest Strategic Review will be unveiled. Certainly, something we hope will receive due acknowledgement is the key role played by Ireland’s remarkable class associations. It mustn’t be allowed to pass notice that at last weekend’s All-Ireland Helmsman’s Championship, the winner – Michael O’Connor – came from the strong SB20 Association which also provided last year’s winner, Peter Kennedy, while third-placed was Shane McCarthy of the GP14s, whose Irish class association is so strong it’s a force of nature.

Clearly, there are many factors involved in what might be done to add to sailing’s appeal, while retaining what is already very good. Irish Sailing are looking for thoughtful input into our sailing future, and you can oblige them here

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Our header photo this week may not be the greatest in terms of clarity and technical brilliance, let alone jaw-dropping drama writes W M Nixon. But it tells us much about our peculiar sport of racing under sail, that two genuine and experienced sailing enthusiasts could examine this photo in detail and argue for hours about whether it is a Good Thing, or a Travesty of Sporting Justice.

It shows the Dublin Bay 25 class making a start through the mouth of Dun Laoghaire Harbour, which would have been Kingstown when the image was taken, as it’s probably pre-1914. But even were it in the 1920s or ’30s, many of the locals – including, one would think, practically everyone on these yachts - continued to call it Kingstown even though it had officially reverted to Dun Laoghaire in 1920, meaning that it had been Kingstown for just 99 years.

Be that as it may, it shows a classic summer’s day - probably a Saturday afternoon, though they had racing on some weekday afternoons too in the GODs (the Good Old Days) – and an easterly sea breeze is making as the 25ft LWL class, the aristocrats of the Dublin Bay One Design scene and the J/109s of their time, get their race under way.

db25 acushla racing2The J/109s of their day – the Purcell brothers’ DB 25 Acushla racing on Dublin Bay in 1938. An early owner was the legendary international tenor John McCormack, and Macushla was one of his most popular songs

It may well be that their actual start was made in-harbour from a mark boat off the waterfront for the convenient viewing of the many members and their guests in the distinguished clubhouses (who would have observed proceedings for about four minutes as it was otherwise interrupting their lunch, but never mind). Thus it might be said that in accessing Dublin Bay through the harbour mouth, they were getting two starting lines for the price of one.

But either way, the last thing on anyone’s mind was the thought that people should go to much trouble – or indeed any trouble whatever – to provide a starting line which was at exactly 90 degrees to the basic wind direction. On the contrary, the thinking at virtually all sailing centres was that you should get the boats away as quickly and conveniently as possible from a start line near their moorings, and finish them in similar style. For in those pre-auxiliary-engine days, finishing at some distance from home with the wind failing was a big turn-off in every sense of the term, and it was certainly bad for club racing’s popularity.

Anyway, that header photo, which is such a long up the page by now that we’ll show it again, would seem to suggest that the boat on the left – no 2, Punctilio which was the last DB25 to leave Dun Laoghaire, she was here until the 1970s – is well set up, as they’re probably racing towards a first mark in mid-bay. She’s nicely on a closer-than-close reach but not actually hard on the wind, she’s just hitting the edge of the seaward-going ebb which will sharpen the breeze and enable her to sail at the optimum angle, and she looks to have freed herself from getting any dirt from the group close under the east pier.

dbsc 25 start3Here’s that start again for further examination

But don’t dismiss them entirely. The boat right under the lighthouse may be carrying her way with limp sails through a small calm spot. But within seconds she will be getting a benefit from the mini tide rip which swirls round the pier end, and suddenly her overall position could be transformed.

For in the GODs, the boat which has had the best start was the boat which was best placed after about a mile of racing. And who knows, but it might even be the boat in the foreground, No 1 which could either be Whisper built in 1898 by local shipwright J E Doyle, or it could be Fodhla built in 1903 also by J E Doyle.

For Fodhla was built for the Viceroy, the Earl of Dudley and the nascent 25ft class were so chuffed that Himself up in The Park was getting one of the boats (it was a surprise present from his wife) that they decided Fodhla should also be No 1. Only in Dublin Bay would they have two No 1s, while they never ever had a No 13.

Fodhla launch4The new Fodhla ready for launching by builder J E Doyle into the Coal Harbour in what was then Kingstown in 1903. As the owner-to-be was the Viceroy, the class association caused eternal confusion by making her No 1 when they already had a No 1, built in 1898. Photo courtesy DBSC.
Anyway, Fodhla or Whisper or whatever is going like a train as she carries a private puff of breeze from within the harbour, but you’ll notice that her racing flag atop the jackyard tops’l suggests she is reaching, yet they already have her trimmed for the wind being well ahead of the beam, in anticipation of the significantly different direction outside.

Or it could be we’re flattering No 1’s crew? Maybe they’ve been surprised by this sudden puff from abeam or even slightly aft of it. But as it’s only going to last for a few seconds until they get into the basic breeze in the bay, it’s hardly worth their while adjusting the four different sheets which the complex rig of the DB25 requires, and it’s only going to cause confusion with the sister’s son, young Willie, who is trying to make himself comfortable in the sunshine on the lee deck, and fell overboard last time out, costing them a couple of places……

Fodhla dbsc1909 barometer5Fodhla was only briefly in the ownership of the Viceroy – by 1909 she was winning races for one H Kennedy, as this DBSC prize barometer from Vandeleur Antiques of Kilrush reveals.

Be that as it may, we’re assuming one of our experienced observers is a sailor who enjoys racing which is as much an interaction with coastal features and local quirks of sea and weather as it is with the straightforward achieving of boat speed in clear relatively tide-free water, and he or she sees this start as a delightful challenge.

But equally we assume the other is a purist whose highest ideal is Olympic sailing in waters as interference-free as possible, with courses of a very set type with a starting line virtually at 90 degrees to the wind, which must be of minimal strength and steady direction, racing round marks well clear of any land influence with minimal and preferably no tide, and putting the emphasis on windward-leeward courses in which the crews are always busy busy busy. He or she, therefore, sees this start as a lazy luck-reliant shambles.

modern start6 The beau ideal of a modern start, far at sea and dead to windward, with an extra mark boat at mid-line set back a very few feet to keep the sighted line in order

Inevitably, in an era when public awareness of sailing just about extends to Olympic medals and no further, the Olympic disease is spreading down to every level of our sport. Characterful starting huts on the end of piers or on picturesque shoreside seapoints, both with eminently sensible transit markers setting the line, are discarded in favour of Committee Boats, mark-laying RIBs, and a general support cast of dozens of pious folk including, God help us, umpires…...

"the Olympic disease is spreading down to every level of our sport"

Even back in the 1990s, it was sometimes at the stage where there seemed to be more people on the management side than were actually racing the boats. But the 1990s being the final years of that prelapsarian era before 24/7 electronic communication meant that you now never knew when you actually have time off, even though I was churning out verbiage at a ridiculous rate for many printed publications with the odd book to make things truly manic, deadlines meant that was it - job done and goodbye, you were all clear, and some civilised diversion could be planned without a thought for what should be going onto some ever-active communication screen.

idra14 start clontarf7A spectator-friendly start for the IDRA 14s at Clontarf for their 70th Anniversary Race in 2016 in an area which dries out at low water. The line had been set from the shore to give a slight disadvantage to starboard tack boats, but a sudden backing of the light breeze accentuated this. Nevertheless the start proceeded, and while Andy Sargent in Dusk (no 4) has pulled off the port tack start, Gerry Sargent in Starfish is just able to make the pin on starboard, and he went on to win with Dusk second. Photo: W M Nixon

So anyway, after one particularly exasperating Race Week when the Organising Committee had insisted the Race Officer set the start line well away from harbour or any land, meaning we spent half the day getting there and back, I used the grapevine of the club bars to air an idea about a race among like-minded souls which would involve no Race Officer, and for its marks would rely only on islands (of which we have more than most folk realize in the Greater Dublin area), and on the navigation buoys of Irish Lights and Dublin Port.

Admittedly its successful functioning was reliant on inter-boat VHF, but for some years on the second Saturday of May, a handy flotilla of proper cruiser-racers in the 35-40ft range would get together for what we called The Islands Race in the morning sunshine (of course the sun always shone), and we’d talk ourselves into a sort of line and race round an island or two and a hefty steel buoy or three and end up somewhere agreeable like Skerries if the tide was right, or Poolbeg (when we ran up the Liffey under spinnaker right under the Hailing House to avoid the tide - you definitely couldn’t do that nowadays) or into Dun Laoghaire and an entertaining call to one of the clubs, or the Howth section might make the effort and get across to Dun Laoghaire and we’d all talk ourselves into a race back to Howth, maybe going round Dalkey Island and perhaps Ireland’s Eye on the way.

coastlineThe coastline of Greater Dublin is well blessed with convenient islands and other fixed turning marks
It was perfect. But it was too good to last. Crews were returning home much too clearly demonstrating that they’d been having a lovely time. And the main official programme was expanding to spread into the shoulders of the season, taking up those early-May Saturdays, with Tim Goodbody in the Royal Alfred YC developing the season-long Superleague for cruiser-racers, which inevitably became a must-do series.

Our little idea lasted maybe half a dozen years. But with some people trying to make it more structured, while others who didn’t really fit the mould wanting to join, it was gently let go as we observed much-loved straightforward events such as the traditional Lambay Race degenerating into a cat’s cradle of windward starts and additional marks which confused simple mariners who knew very well indeed how to race round islands, but couldn’t get too excited about VMG towards some distant artificially-planted buoy.

For inevitably, the business of starting and running yacht races was becoming a mini-industry within itself, a mini-industry whose functioning adds to the time spent in actually getting in a decent little race which should be over and done with from about a quarter of an hour after leaving port, to within minutes of finishing.

It is something which is causing concern throughout sailing, but before we attempt a truly disruptive revolution and try to Make Sailing Simple Again, may I take another slight diversion?

For I have long wished to declare that the greatest benefactor of the human race is the inventor of golf. The thinking behind such a notion is this: What on earth would all those people be doing if they didn’t have golf to play? It helps to keep them moderately fit, and though it may result in artificially green spaces, from seaward or up in the hills an artificially green space in pleasant countryside is infinitely preferable to industrial or urban sprawl.

old head course9The Old Head Golf Course near Kinsale – it may be very artificially green, but it is preferable to industrial or urban sprawl
As for the people for whom golf is pleasantly sedating, they cause trouble to no-one. An experienced hotelier in the west of Ireland once told me that the golfer is the perfect guest, easily pleased if you’ve the proper hospitality skills, and no trouble to anyone. He or she will return to the inn in a relaxed frame of mind after one or two rounds of their beloved game, and for dinner they’ll invariably have a steak with a bottle of red wine. Then they’ll retire peacefully to their rooms maybe with another bottle or a pint of Guinness, and there they’ll settle down in bed and watch a golf video before sleeping serenely.

It’s an entire segment of society kept content with a sense of purpose. So when the disruptors talk of doing away with distantly-located “perfect” start lines and Race Officers who will not let the fleets away until a dozen wind requirements are fully met, do they (the disruptors) not have enough humanity in them to think about what might become of the not-inconsiderable corps of volunteers who currently man committee boats and back-up RIBs and mark boats and heaven only knows what else that floats and can usefully be deployed to ensure that a smaller number of people actually get in some sort of race?

For the fact of the matter is, a fully-crewed and effectively-equipped and properly-organised Committee Boat with its various support boats is arguably a floating Men’s Shed (and yes, I know there are many splendid women involved too, God bless them).

So if we go back to simple shore-based starts using transits as Nature intended rather than having fully-manned boats bobbing about at sea, what on earth is going to become of those who have been called to Committee Boat service? For it’s not for everyone – it’s a sort of secret society, and there’s an invisible vetting process.

Either way, if we just pack a race officer into a little pier-end hut with a time-keeper and a records secretary and set up the transits for a reasonable start and then let the sailors at it within a few yards of the harbour mouth, we’re inevitably going to cast all those Committee Boat folk, mark buoy boys, and umpires into a sort of purposeless outer darkness.

Perhaps they can take up golf…..Meanwhile, before this column is swamped into obliteration under an onslaught of Olympic Sailing Purity of Opinion, let it be pointed out that the Round Ireland Race starts from a shoreline, though admittedly with the race officer at the outer end in a Naval Service vessel if there’s one available. Elsewhere, much of Cowes Week and all of the Fastnet Race starts from a fixed shoreline. And as for the course, that’s then sailed, very little of it is round artificial marks other than established navigation buoys.

round ireland start10 Crazy but it works – the start of the Round Ireland Race 2014 as seen from the Wicklow pierhead

And for those who object to racing where the effect of land regularly intrudes, just remember that the most popular participant sailing events in the world are the Round the Island Race around the Isle of Wight in the south of England, and the Round Gotland Race and other huge events involving close inshore stuff on islands in the Baltic.

Clearly, it’s what people want. And as for fancy Olympic courses in slightly remote area (ie more than two miles away from the harbour), they’re now soooo yesterday……Club sailors want convenience. If they want to go for a sail, they’ll simply go for a sail. But if they want a race, they don’t want to have to go for a sail before it. They want racing, and they want it now.

round the island11It’s sailing sport of a kind, but definitely not Olympic – the fleet in the Round the Island Race at the Needles, were those really cutting the corner have to be sure they pass safely inside the remains of a hidden shipwreck……
For a while, the ancient Howth 17s were told that the only racing that could be provided for them on a Saturday afternoon would be with the Puppeteer 22s (which carry an outboard auxiliary engine) at a Committee Boat start north of Ireland’s Eye in a supposedly clear area.

Yet if a calm fell, the Seventeens had to resort to a long oar, which was and is brutal to row with, and that’s it. So they rebelled, organized their own Race Officer rota for starts at the old pierhead line which they could reach within minutes from their moorings, and they’ve never looked back since. Saturday afternoon racing is the highlight of the week. So maybe if sailing organisers went by the old dictum of the customer being king, we might see club sailing becoming more healthy.

Here’s a vid of the Round the Island Race which usually starts at an ungodly hour of the morning, yet if you have a handy berth in the outer reaches of Cowes Harbour, you can leave it with just a quarter of an hour to go to your start. We’re not recommending that, but it can be done……

And as for those who like to claim that their nearest “clear area” really does minimize the need for local knowledge almost completely, let us remember the time when John Bertrand, America’s Cup-winning helm for Australia in 1983, finally achieved his true goal in life – becoming Etchells 22 World Champion in 2010, when it was staged in Howth.

For sure, the race area was set in the “clean zone” well clear of Howth, northwards between Ireland’s Eye and Lambay. But despite that, John Bertrand – whose crew for the big event was to include Tom Slingsby – spent six weeks (repeat: 6 weeks) in Howth beforehand, sailing his Etchells 22 morning, noon and night in the race area in order to get a complete feel for it and its many moods. He certainly deserved to win. But a bit of old-fashioned racing using a clear transit-marked shore-based starting line might have been more fun.

John bertrand12John Bertrand of Australia, who wrested the America’s Cup from the USA in 1983 for the first time since they originally won it in 1851. In 2010, he spent several weeks familiarizing himself with the “clear zone” sailing area off Howth before he raced on it to win the Etchells 22 Worlds

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I met two wonderful sailors this week who, sailing around the world, have come to two conclusions about yachting.

One is: “There is a significant amount of horse manure that abounds in the yachting world; it would be a great pity to let that put you off when you encounter it, but encounter it you will.”

The other: “The yachting world is also filled with kind, supportive and generous people who are eager to share their experience and skill and it is useful to take every opportunity to learn from them.”

With both conclusions, I agree. I have personally experienced both as a marine journalist.

"It started with a “kitchen table conversation”, to leave ‘normal life’ and live on a boat, but in this case, they knew little about sailing"

Leonard Skinner from Cork, who learned to sail at the age of 34 and his partner, Mary Cooney from Tipperary, - “we have found that sailing around the world actually translates as ‘sailing about the world” - are the two sailors who “escaped” from Bere Island in Castletownbere Harbour, West Cork, to become ‘liveboards’ as they pursued their dream of sailing around the world. Their 39ft. yacht is Faoin Spéir (Under the Sky), built in 1976 at Hank McClune’s boatyard in California and how it came from there into the possession of an Irish couple who decided to change their lifestyle from “normality to a yacht cruising world with teenage twins” is a heck of a story. The children are ‘boat schooled’ – their version of ‘home schooled’ because the boat is their home!

Faoin speirFaoin Spéir in good company in Cowes with the UK Sea Cadets on the TS Royalist in 2016 Photo: Twitter

It started with a “kitchen table conversation”, so often mentioned in decisions to leave ‘normal life’ and go living on a boat, but in this case, it was started from scratch, literally, because they knew little about sailing. I met them in Waterstone’s bookshop in Cork, while they were back in Ireland for a week; the boat is in Spain. The legendary Laurel and Bill Cooper who wrote what is regarded as the definitive liveaboard cruising book, Sell Up and Sail, have endorsed their new book, Escape Under Sail, just published by Adlard Coles, as its legitimate successor, high endorsement indeed. It is also a missive of advice to anyone yearning to set sail to distant climes and written unusually so that you can identify which of the couple is saying what and when. And they do have differences of opinion!

“Many held the view that we were ’mad or daft’, our ‘sailaway boat’ cost €4,350, but to make a boat sail from one port to another takes very little,” they say and tell of the chap who visited them aboard in Bere Island and who had “every piece of equipment yachting magazines recommended on his boat” and thought they “weren’t very nautical” because they had a laptop and used “a GPS dongle that cost €20.” They “escaped” from Bere Island only because it was their starting point and the marina people there “were so nice we could use it as our home port!”

I interviewed them on the spot in Waterstone’s and it was one of the most enjoyable interviews I have done and you can hear below just how that kitchen table conversation started their “liveaboard life.”

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I don’t particularly like the ‘macho’ element which crept into sailing during the past few years.

“Macho” has been defined as “behaving in a way that is thought to be typical of a man, especially by seeming strong and powerful but also seeming too determined to avoid showing weakness and sympathy.” The definition refers only to the male species …

I use it in regard to the attitude I’ve seen and heard of “we’ll go sailing whatever the conditions and show what we can do…”

I’ve had a few lively differences of opinion about races being staged in conditions which I thought questionable. All sailors must have experience of heavy weather and so be able to cope with it and Skippers have the responsibility to decide whether to take the boat out in prevailing weather conditions. I accept all of that. Race Officers have a responsibility too, for deciding whether a race should go ahead. Offshore racing, transAtlantic, world racing will inevitably encounter varying conditions.

"How can heavy weather experience be gained if not by experiencing it? But is racing the way?"

There will be contrasting views and there will be those who ask how can heavy weather experience be gained if not by experiencing it? But is racing the way?

Sailing is a challenging sport in which weather conditions can change rapidly. As the sailing season gets underway, my emphasis after many years, still remains on going sailing for enjoyment. I’ve experienced the heavy weather, in offshore, transatlantic, Round Ireland Races, October Leagues, etc. For me, the primary aspect of the sport is enjoying being out on the water. In this regard, Whitesail, in which I had the pleasure with the late Jim Donegan of being involved in its initial introduction to Cork Harbour, offered a new opportunity for racing involvement in perhaps more benign racing mode and its development has been rapid.

So, this week my Podcast is about making the decision to take the boat out.

At Irish Sailing’s cruising conference in Lough Ree Yacht Club, Mary Healy who with Paul Scannell, took the 37-foot and 41-year-old motor cruiser, Arthur - which had been more used on the inland waterways - on a voyage of over 900 nautical miles around the coast of Ireland over a nine-month period, described how they made the decision to go out, in prevailing weather conditions.

ARTHUR OFFSHORE37-foot and 41-year-old motor cruiser, Arthur

• Listen to the Podcast here

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Sailing in Ireland is a sport of long-lived organisations, writes W M Nixon. It’s a vehicle sport in which a significant number of the sailing vehicles are cherished classics, sometimes passed down from one generation to the next. Like it or not, we can never escape from our sailing history, for it’s often right out there, sailing along next to us, crewed by people whose parents sailed those boats before them. And then when we come ashore, it’s to clubs with every modern facility, yet those facilities are often skillfully incorporated with mature buildings redolent in history.

And what an extraordinary history it is. With the underlying tone of Irish sailing history being set by the fact the Royal Cork Yacht Club will be celebrating its Tricentenary next year, we can only hope that, somehow or other, we find the time and energy to take in our stride the many other special anniversaries which are cascading into the programme for this year and next.

national yacht club aerial2“Modern facilities incorporated with mature buildings redolent in history…” Dun Laoghaire’s National Yacht Club will be celebrating its 150th Anniversary in 2020.
For the Royal Cork’s Tricentenary is something so big, so significant and so special that it’s quite a challenge just to take the idea of it on board. After all, the concept which was launched as the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork in 1720 has gradually permeated beyond the maritime world to become part of the broader culture, something which is brought home to us in the National Gallery in Dublin when contemplating Nathaniel Grogan’s 1765 painting of one of the yachts of the Water Club at Tivoli on Cork Harbour. In the painting, the boat in question – an extreme rarity in most other places – is clearly very much part of the local leisured life, and indicative of the way sailing sport has permeated Cork Harbour ever since.

cork week racing3The racing in the biennial Volvo Cork Week well illustrates the way that sailing sport permeates Cork Harbour. Cork Week 2020 (July 13th to 18th) will be one of several highlights of the RCYC Tricentenary celebrations.

Fifty years ago, the Royal Cork celebrated its Quarter Millennium under the Admiralty of Clayton Love Jnr in a high profile two-year format, with a Transatlantic Race to Cork in 1969 which positioned American boats for that year’s Fastnet Race, and a big-fleet Cruise-in-Company of the leading cruising clubs to southwest Ireland.

With the two years available, the celebrations saw the second year devoted to more local interests, including an early Cork Week. But for 2020, and now half a century on, the world of sailing has changed almost beyond recognition, and high-powered events with a strong professional tinge dominate the heights of the annual global programme.

It is in these circumstances that the “2020 Committee”, headed by Colin Morehead, has been developing a programme suited to sailing and the Royal Cork YC as they are today, and their thinking for 2020 – when he will be Admiral – is that much of the programme will have an emphasis on accessibility, in giving all sailors a genuine feeling that the Royal Cork’s Tricentenary is something they can share.

royal cork aerial4Facilities for our times. The Royal Cork YC may have three centuries of history, but the comprehensive waterfront facilities of Crosshaven are in contemporary style. Photo: Robert Bateman

Certainly, the response and interest they have been receiving worldwide supports this generous yet realistic approach, and the Royal Cork is in the happy position of being well-placed in sailing’s global awareness. Its ultimate seniority was firmly acknowledged by the Royal Yacht Squadron when that premier club celebrated its 200th Anniversary in 2015, and back in 2005, the Royal Cork published its truly monumental history, written by professional historian Alicia St Leger, drawing on the magnificent collection of club artworks, artefacts and memorabilia curated by RCYC Honorary Archivist Dermot Burns.

Thus for the past fifty years and more, the foundations have been in the process of being laid for the events of 2020 in and around Cork Harbour, and the fact that the programme is being quietly developed without undue fanfare give a sense of realism to it all. For in truth, there is still an air of unreality to the very idea that a yacht club can be 300 years old.

DBSC Junior Section Golden Jubilee

In the meantime, other sailing communities are stepping up their own local special anniversaries, and they provide a rich selection.

Just this week, Dublin Bay SC revealed on that its Junior Section began formal racing in the sheltered yet clear waters to the west of the West Pier back in 1959. With proper-job white-capped Officers of the Day, it marked the first stirrings of a seriously organised junior programme several years before the Irish Yachting Association (which was still the Irish Dinghy Racing Association in the 1950s) began to give the concept a national structure.

Yet if there was a Golden Jubilee celebration back in 2009 of that nascent West Pier setup, it slipped under the radar. But these days, with longer and still-active lives the norm, 60th Anniversary celebrations (you may call it the Diamond Jubilee if you wish) are readily possible, with many of the original participants still around to share in the fun, and they gather in the Royal St George YC on April 12th.

As for the parent organisation, Dublin Bay SC celebrated its Centenary way back in 1984 in considerable style when Michael O’Rahilly (The O’Rahilly, to give him his proper title) was Commodore. He’s still enjoying his sailing, these days with his son John aboard the latter’s recently-acquired award-winning cruiser Rike. When we met the other evening at the ICC AGM, Michael expressed a nostalgic wish for a sail aboard the champion Howth 17 Deiliginis, aboard which he spent many happy hours when she was the DBSC 17 Deliginis and based in Dun Laoghaire.

That friendly request encapsulated much of Irish sailing. In addition to being a very keen sailor, Michael O’Rahilly has done more that his share of voluntary duties to keep the show on the road, and much of it was done in the service of a very active club which nevertheless soared effortlessly through its Centenary all of 35 years ago.

In being an active participant in that club’s sport on the water, Michael had sailed in a boat which was already old – Deilginis was built by James Kelly of Portrush in 1907 – yet that same Deilginis - thanks to the efforts of Nick Massey and his family and partners – is now in immaculate classic-style order, and she is moreover the 1898-founded Howth 17 Class’s current champion.

deilginis to bangor5Still going strong. Helmsman’s selfie aboard the 1907-built Howth 17 Deilginis, on passage from Howth to Belfast Lough for the 150th Anniversary celebrations of the Royal Ulster YC in 2016. Photo: David Nixon
Faced with so many links running every which way, we’ll try to put some order on the next two years of celebration and commemoration in order of seniority, and if we’ve missed something, do please let us know.

  • 2020 Royal Cork Yacht Club Tricentenary
  • 2020 Lough Ree Yacht Club Quarter Millennium
  • 2020 Lough Erne Yacht Club Bicentenary
  • 2020 National Yacht Club 150th Anniversary
  • 2020 Howth Yacht Club 125th Anniversary
  • 2019 Seabird Half Rater 120th Anniversary
  • 2019 Ballyholme Yacht Club Centenary
  • 2019 Cove Sailing Club Centenary
  • 2019 Treardur Bay Sailing Club Centenary
  • 2019 Dublin Bay SC Junior Section 60th Anniversary
  • 2019 Figaro Solo Golden Jubilee
  • 2019 Coiste an Asgard Sailing Programme 50th Anniversary
  • 2019 Glenans Ireland 50th Anniversary
  • 2019 Fastnet Race Storm 40th Anniversary
  • 2019 Sigma 33 40th Anniversary
  • 2019 Cruinniu na mBad, Kinvara 40th Anniversary

40th Anniversary of the Fastnet storm

Not all are celebratory. The 40th Anniversary of the Fastnet storm of 1979, with its 15 deaths and five competing boats foundering, will be a matter of solemn remembrance this August in West Cork and in families now spread across the globe. Yet as has been austerely observed, the worst thing and the best thing about life is that it goes on.

1979 Fastnet race memorial6The simple memorial stone on Cape Clear remembering those who were lost in the Fastnet Race storm of 1979

The Baltimore lifeboat of 1979, the Watson 47 Robert, brought in Ken Rohan’s Ron Holland-designed white-hot performer Regardless, the star of the then-leading Irish Admiral’s Cup Team, after she’d lost her rudder as the super-storm developed. The Robert – ON955 – is currently being restored by Jeff Houlgrave. He’s better known for his professional links to the world of superyachts, but restoring vintage lifeboats is his intriguing hobby, and all being well, the Robert will be back in Baltimore in August 2019.

For sure, that will remind us of an appalling two days that shook the world of offshore racing to its core 40 years ago, but it will equally remind us of many acts of exceptional heroism that ensured the death toll wasn’t higher, and tragic and all as it was, much was learned from it.

robert lifeboat7The Watson 47 type Robert was the Baltimore lifeboat in 1979

As for Regardless, she was fitted out with a stronger rudder stock, and sallied forth for the 1981 Admirals Cup series - rounded out by the Fastnet Race - with young fellows like Robert Dix, Drewry Pearson and Des Cummins in her crew. Heading into the first post-disaster Fastnet Race was a thoughtful experience, but Regardless emerged on top, first of all the Admiral’s Cup boats, and first overall in Class I.

For a while, the numbers in the Fastnet Race were reduced from 1979’s 300-plus, and even by 2007 when an exceptional gale was forecast, a majority of the fleet retired while still near shelter. But the overall winner was Ger O’Rourke’s Cookson 50 Chieftain, one of the great Irish sailing successes of the 21st Century.

1981 regardless8Life goes on…..Ken Rohan’s Regardless in the Irish Admirals Cup Trials of May 1981 in Cork is seen here coming out past the rocks of Roche’s Point in the winning form which she maintained to the end of the season, which included the first post-disaster Fastnet Race. Photo: W M Nixon

As for the Rolex Fastnet Race itself today, the figures speak for themselves. When the online entries for 2019 opened for business, 180 boats were in within the first two minutes, and after four minutes and 37 seconds, the maximum of 340 boats had been reached. But don’t lose heart if you’re only on the Waiting List. Back in 2007, Chieftain was on the Waiting List until the Tuesday before the weekend of the race’s start…….

The last three Fastnets have been won overall by French boats, and if we needed a further reminder of the pace-setting way of the French at the sharp end of offshore racing, the Golden Jubilee Solo URGO Figaro is making Kinsale a major part of its celebrations, with the fleet there around June 5th to 9th with an extended community-aimed programme.

Figaro's Golden Jubilee

As this will be the Figaro’s 20th time in Kinsale, it makes the Irish harbour the classic event’s most-visited port, and though the basic programme tells us the fleet will be in port for 3 to 5 days, it will have all the makings of a week-long sea festival, a friendly Gallic-flavoured Viking invasion.

kinsale harbour9The Golden Jubilee of the Figaro Solo will see the fleet in Kinsale from June 5th to 9th, the 20th time this top-end single-handed classic has featured the south coast port.
It’s going to be a Gold Plate entry for this Golden Jubilee event, with several of the superstars of yesteryear returning to take part in racing which will be staged in the new foiling Beneteau Figaro 3. Although our recently-appointed Irish Sailing Sustainability Ambassador Damian Foxall is the only Irish sailor to have won a Figaro leg, whether or not he’s back in the hunt won’t be known until April when the final starting lineup is published. But we do know that Tom Dolan of Meath with Smurfit Kappa and Joan Mulloy of Mayo have been allocated boats.

figaro three speed10The new Figaro 3 with foils makes its full-on debut with the Golden Jubilee Solo URGO Solitaire in June

250th Anniversary of Lough Ree YC

Descending from the giddy heights of the Golden Jubilee Figaro Solo in Kinsale in June this year, next year’s celebration of the 250th Anniversary of Lough Ree YC, the 150th of the National YC in Dun Laoghaire, and the 125th of Howth seem reassuringly local and manageable in concept, yet they’re all unique elements of a very special historic tapestry that we almost take for granted.

Be that as it may, events of this summer deserve our greatest consideration, and as Ballyholme YC on Belfast Lough is hitting the big one in 2019, our congratulations flow north to a club which has evolved successfully to accommodate changing sailing patterns. Although its keelboat fleet – including its flotilla of restored 1902-vintage Waverley Class sloops - is now berthed in Bangor Marina, at its home base on Ballyholme Bay it is beside clear open waters which provide one of Ireland’s best dinghy racing venues, a top choice for major events. And the club’s flexibility is shown through its readiness to provide powerboat training programmes.

waverley fleet11First sailed in 1902, the Waverley Class have been with Ballyholme Yacht Club since its foundation a hundred years ago.

But while Ballyholme is in Ireland and familiar to many of our racing sailors, you might well wonder what on earth is the Centenary of Treardur Bay Sailing Club in North Wales doing in our list, not to mention the 120th Anniversary of the Seabird Half Rater Class, which likewise is largely North Wales-based.

The answer is found in the magnetic attraction of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta from July 11th to 14th 2019. You may recall that at the previous VDLR in 2017, one of the special classes was the classic Fifes from the Menai Straits, lovely little keelboats which were already known in Ireland from their starring roles at the Glandore Classics.

treardur bay12The crowded anchorage of the 1919-founded Treardur Bay SC on Anglesey, In the foreground are 14ft dinghies of the local Myth Class (founded 1920) and beyond are some of the club’s Seabird Half Raters, part of a class which first sailed 120 years ago.

seabird profileProfile of the 20ft Seabird Half Rater – their participation in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2019 will be watched with interest, as their keel/centreboard arrangement is unusual in Ireland

Well, it seems the good news has spread westward across Anglesey to Treardur Bay close south of Holyhead, where they’ve had an active sailing club since 1919. In all, at least 21 boats from Treardur Bay SC’s fleet will be brought over by trailers, made up from the Seabird Half Raters – 20ft LOA semi-keelboats designed by Scott Hayward of Lancashire for a class which first raced in 1919 – and TBSC’s own class, the clinker-built 14ft Myth Class which originated in 1920 to a commissioned design from Morgan Giles, who at much the same time was working in the first drawings for the Shannon One Design.

Like many such classes, the Myths went through a slim patch, but thanks to noted Anglesey boatbuilder John Jones (who has helped in the new vitality of the Dublin Bay Water Wags), the Myths are now in excellent health, and it’s going to be fascinating comparing their performance to the Water Wags in Dun Laoghaire in July.

shannon one design14Shannon One Design making knots and then some. Designed by Morgan Giles at much the same time as he designed the Myths for Treardur Bay SC, the Shannon ODs will be playing a leading role in the Quarter Millennial Celebrations of Lough Ree YC in 2020.

In fact, even for people who normally avoid history if at all possible, these next two years in Irish sailing are going to be intriguing. And if anyone thinks they can comprehend - in a genuinely meaningful way - all the things that have happened to the world since the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork started formalising its manoeuvres in 1720, then good luck to them. Many of the rest of us find it quite difficult to grasp, and we certainly don’t have the brain-space to explain why both Glenans Ireland and Coiste an Asgard are but shadows of themselves fifty years after they were founded.

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Hello and welcome to my weekly Podcast …. Tom MacSweeney here ….

The last race of the Winter League ended the sailing season in Cork Harbour …..

Around the country, December racing, for those still with the ability and determination to take part, brings the season to a conclusion and focus turns towards annual meetings and plans for next year. For me, the most important task still, is to raise the public profile of sailing and increase its inclusiveness ….

When I write and broadcast about sailing, people occasionally point out the contrasts – big, expensive boats and wealthy people who can afford them, exclusivity allegedly in some clubs, those aspects remain amongst criticism, contrasted with the - “how can you get into sailing…” and me pointing out that there are so many levels of the sport, so many different types of boats, so many different people, so many different aspects which can reasonably be afforded to get into the sport. I’ve heard all of these so many times that they are an expected chorus which, do not reflect the inclusivity which most existing participants want the sport to have – though there are some who may have a different opinion –and I’m also aware of that.

I’ve been highlighting the importance of getting more young sailors interested in cruiser racing as well as dinghies, so that there can be a seamless progression as their age profile increases, because the future of the sport needs this transition…It’s encouraging that this appears to be happening, as more youngsters are seen helming and crewing their family boats… We’ve had this on my boat, Scribbler, for some seasons and it has been a positive experience. Giving up the helm is not an easy decision, but when there are better youngsters that can do it, that is the way to go… Not all youngsters will want to helm, but they have youth, enthusiasm and ability, adding experience is what older sailors can do, to all aspects of sailing a boat.

So, for the annual club meetings, perhaps thought should be given to developing a pathway from dinghies to cruisers to keep in the sport those who seem to slip away to other pursuits when they decide to leave dinghies?

And there could be a discussion about how inclusive the sport is, about reaching out to new entrants.

The national sailing association has put forward programmes to do this, but I still hear the statement: “It’s not easy to get into sailing….”

Is there need to make it easier?

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“For everything to stay the same, everything must change….” It’s an enduring and profound thought from the classic Italian novel The Leopard. And it applies to Irish sailing at least much as it does to most other aspects of Irish life writes W M Nixon.

We might think our sailing changes little from year to year, yet it moves along, and certain very significant dates come steadily up the calendar with increasing presence. So although we’re currently looking ahead to 2019, there’s no escaping the magnificent reality that 2020 is the Tricentenary of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, and as if that weren’t enough, Lough Ree YC is 250 in 2020, while the National YC in Dun Laoghaire will be 150 years from a foundation date in 1870.

In the background of such great events, Irish sailing moves along determined to make each year both new yet recognisably familiar, with major pillar events providing the basic structure of the year’s programme, often in a biennial and comfortable rhythm. And then, just as a little too much benevolent ennui starts to creep in, something unexpected and exciting will occur.

Such unexpected excitement might be provided by the sudden appearance of a new sailing star of genuine depth and talent. But as 2018 revealed, it is equally guaranteed by setbacks such as illnesses or injury among our aspiring Olympic sailors, or the cruel rig damage experienced by Tom Dolan just after the start of the Figaro Solo 2018.

And then there was the double-roll of Gregor McGuckin’s veteran Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance in September in the Golden Jubilee Golden Globe solo round the world race, resulting in his heroic rescue attempt under jury rig on the likewise dismasted but also seriously injured fellow-competitor Abilash Tomy.

That was rather more excitement than most of can live with for any great length of time. But as 2019 actually begins and we digest the showing by the Irish connections in the latest Rolex Sydney Hobart Race which will have started on December 26th 2018, the Golden Globe 50th Anniversary Solo Round the World 2018-2019 re-enactment will be entering its final chapter for those relatively few boats still in the challenge.

It’s an event of which – if making predictions - you can say “barring accidents” with real meaning. At the time of writing, the great Jean-Luc van den Heede is clear in the lead in his Rustler 36, with New Zealand well astern and Cape Horn next up. He now has “only” 10,500 miles to the finish, so we could be looking at a February return for the tough 73-year-old to Les Sables d’Olonne.

jean luc van den heede2The veteran Jean Luc van den Heede is well in the led in the Golden Jubilee Golden Globe with “only” 10,500 miles still to sail – and that includes rounding Cape Horn

In France itself, Tom Dolan meanwhile finished his season as third overall with Smurfit Kappa out of 14 Figaro rookies in 2018 in their season-long championship, and he expects to take delivery of a new foiling Figaro 3 at the end of January in the hopes of continuing his upward spiral in the Figaro racing programme, one of the most demanding on the planet.

That will mean at least two of the new Figaro 3s will be of direct Irish interest, as current “Sailor of the Year” Conor Fogerty of Howth will also be taking delivery of one of these flying machines in 2019, though not until late April at the earliest.

portrait tom dolanTom Dolan finished third overall in the Fiagro’s14-strong Rookie (Bizuth) Division in the season-long series

So although the annual “Sailor of the Year” awards at the RDS (2019’s is on Friday February 8th) will mark the end of focus on 2018 and launch us into concentration on the coming season, there’s won’t be quite the same targeted and successful attention turning almost immediately to the RORC Caribbean 600, which in 2019 is on Monday February 18th.

In 2018, Howth YC took a first and second in class, but in 2019 the Michael Wright-led team who took second in Class 2 in the Caribbean 600 of 2018 are aiming instead for a charter in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race on December 26th, while Conor Fogerty – winner of Class 4 in the Caribbean in 2018 – will be involved in the development of the new “Formula Foiler Academy”.

That will be very much work in progress during 2019, as the new Beneteau Figaro 3 offers the most immediate access to a state-of-the-art foiling offshore racer. But priority of supply for the new machine is initially dominated by the needs of the official Figaro Solo fleet as it changes over to the foiler to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Figaro Race in 2019, whereas Conor Fogerty’s interest will be in racing with a minimum crew of three in order to identify rising talent who will be poised for full-on involvement tin a foiler racing programme in tandem with RORC events in 2020.

Thus if the new boat does arrive in late April, she may almost immediately be seen in ISORA events in the Irish Sea (the ISORA programme starts on April 27th), as Fogerty plans to be drawing on Irish-based talents and conveniently-accessed events to set his programme into action.

figaro three4The new foiling Figaro 3 – Tom Dolan will be racing his in the Figaro Solo programme, but Conor Fogerty will be racing his with a crew in the new Foiler Training Programme in tandem with ISORA and RORC events

Meanwhile in the south of England, RORC Rear Commodore Stewart Greenfeld (from whom incidentally Fogerty bought the classic 1976 Half Ton World Champion Silver Shamrock) will be seeing how a Foiler Programme can be run in tandem with the established RORC fixtures, and while there will of course be Figaro 3s and other mono-hull foilers in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet race on August 3rd, it could well be that the new concept will be most ready for a proper debut at the RORC Caribbean 600 in February 2020, which is definitely a Fogerty priority.

All this takes us a long way from the everyday realities of the 2019 Sailing Programme in Ireland, so at this stage an early outline of the pillar events best shows the structure in which our new sailing year will take shape, knowing that 2019 will also be a major part of the final “make or break” period for Ireland to secure a place or places at the 2020 Tokyo Sailing Olympics. But as all that will be happening at events far away – sometimes very far away – it’s a topic for another day, while for now we concentrate mainly on the home scene.

laser sailingLaser sailing in some of the “mixed weather” experienced in the 2018 Youth Pathway Championship at Dun Laoghaire at the beginning of April 

2019 Main Sailing Events Programme

February 18th RORC Caribbean 600 Antigua

April 25th-28th Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Champ Royal Cork YC

April 27th First ISORA Race Irish Sea ORA

May 23rd – 27th Silvers Scottish Series Clyde Cruising Club

June 1st Lambay Races Howth YC

June 7th to 9th ICRA National Champs RStGYC

June 12th Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race National YC

June 26th to 29th Sovereign’s Cup Kinsale YC

July 11th to 14th Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta Dun Laoghaire

July 21st to 26th Wayfarer Int Championship Greystones SC

July 24th to 27th WIORA West Coast Championship Foynes YC

August 3rd Rolex Fastnet Race Cowes RORC

August 6th to 9th Calves Week Schull Harbour SC

August 9th to 12th Welsh IRC Championship Pwllheli SC

August 9th to 12th Cruinniu na mBad Festival Kinvara

August 15th to 19th Optimist Nationals Howth YC

September 2nd to 13th Flying Fifteen Worlds National YC

In 2018 it was still winter in April, but the Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Championship 2019 – now the biggest event in our Junior Sailing - is aiming for the final weekend of that unpredictable month, Royal Cork is taking on the major challenge of hosting it - and there isn’t a more useful predictor of the coming season’s performance potential than this very special sailfest.

420 start6The 420s continue to play a key role in Irish junior sailing

Cruiser-racing inevitably makes greater demands on crew numbers, so it’s not surprising that in this currently very basic calendar for 2019, cruiser-racer events have had to be very quick out of the traps in setting their dates to guarantee their place in the sun in a crowded programme.

It has already been commented several times that the seven weeks from the Scottish Series getting under way on May 23rd to the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta concluding on Sunday July 14th could get very busy indeed for the keenest cruiser-racers. But most events have been cut down to a minimum number of days – “You’ve only to take one day off work at most” we’re assured – so in theory a boat with a large and willing crew panel could contemplate doing much racing in home waters after going in late May to Scotland, where Pat Kelly’s Storm is defending overall champion from 2018, having won the growing RC 35 class from John Hall (Something Else, NYC) while the Douglas brothers with the J/133 Jacana (Carrickfergus SC) won Class 1 from the Ker 36 Jump Juice (Conor Phelan, Royal Cork).

storm scotland7Pat Kelly’s Storm making knots on her way to the overall Championship at the Scottish Series 2018. Photo Marc Turner

Back home, the programme takes them immediately to Howth’s Lambay Races (June 1st), then a week later there’s the businesslike ICRA Nationals starting Friday June 7th at Royal St George in Dun Laoghaire, and that’s barely settled before the biennial Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race gets going from the National YC on June 12th. But its timing at least allows the hyper-keen to do this long one and still get back to Kinsale for the popular Sovereign’s Cup series from June 26th to 29th.

That timing in turn then allows a weekend’s break before the big one arrives, Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2019 from July 11th to 14th. 2017’s staging of this still-developing multi-class mega-fleet event came so near to perfection that it will be a real achievement to get anywhere near it in terms of sport and enjoyment, but we can be sure the various committee are already well advanced in plans to give 2019 even more oomph.

That said, a repeat of the perfect regatta weather of 2017 is in the lap of the Gods, but steps can be taken to make the programme more interesting regardless, and it’s expected that the RC 35s will be making their first proper stab at having a real impact in Dublin Bay.

first 36.7 animal8Busy at the windward mark – the First 36.7 Animal was the 2018 RC35 Class Overall Champion.

This is the initially Scottish development which puts that large cohort of 32ft to 38ft LOA boats found within the relatively narrow 1.015 to 1.040 IRC rating band into a group, and has them racing as a separate class. It accommodates the large numbers of J/109s, but equally it accommodates lonelier craft like First 36.7s - the 2018 champion is the First 36.7 Animal (Kevin and Debbie Aitken).

In its way, it’s a case of everything having to change in order for everything to stay the same, but in carving out this class, a new sense of active cohesion has been provided in a significant but previously “invisible” natural grouping, and Dublin Bay in July may well prove to be ideal place and event to demonstrate how effective it can be.

After the intensive period from late May to mid-July, there’s a sense of the pace changing, and the focus moving elsewhere. Those who are doing the Fastnet will already be into their countdown with its new earlier date of August 3rd, and sailing schools, in particular, will be bringing their Fastnet programmes into the final stages.

As well, the professional yacht preparation organisations will be doing final tuning with their special chartered high-performance craft. There’s no doubt that for cash-rich time-poor yachties, this is a very effective way to go. But those involved in the time-honoured traditional owner-campaigned Fastnet Race shouldn’t be too ready to write off their own chances. They should remember that the last three Fastnets have all been won by owner-skippered largely amateur-crewed craft, though for Irish skippers and crews, perhaps it’s better for 2019 to forget that those three previous winners have also all been French……..

rounding fastnet rock9Derry Nash’s Catalpa rounds the Fastnet Rock during Calves Week. In 2019, the fleet from Schull may be sharing the turn with competitors in the Rolex Fastnet Race. Photo: Robert Bateman

Meanwhile back in Ireland the sailing will have be going merrily along with those multi-purposed Wayfarers having their International Championship at Greystones in late July. In calling them “little-raced” we’re reflecting their popular image, but some are raced very keenly indeed, and will already have availed of the class’s access to racing in Dun Laoghaire Regatta. But nevertheless the Wayfarer’s image persists as an able boat suitable for all forms of sailing, of which racing is only one.

wayfarers racing10The Wayfarers will have the possibility of racing in Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta in Dublin Bay from July 11th to 14th, and then competing in their own International Championship at Greystones from July 21st to 26th

That same late-July period sees hospitable Foynes YC on the Shannon Estuary come even more vibrantly to life as it hosts the WIORA Championship, and then in early August there’s double focus on West Cork, as the participants in Calves Week at Schull may find themselves sharing the Fastnet as a race mark with the tail-enders in the Rolex Fastnet Race. Either way, Calves Week (2019’s is from August 6th to 9th – a “week” is whatever you’re having yourself in West Cork) has built itself a deserved reputation with the neat balance between moderately serious racing and fun times with it - long may it continue.

Well up the West Coast, at Kinvara in the southeast corner of Galway Bay, it’s the 40th Anniversary of Cruinniu n mBad from August 9th to 11th, the annual gathering of the boats founded in 1979 by the late Tom Moylan. The traditional Galway hookers in all their many sizes will be at their immaculate best as this special edition is staged, and with some interesting newly-restored craft also setting traditional rig these days, the fleet is expected to be larger and more varied than ever before.

cruinniu na mbad11Vision of the West….Galway Hookers racing at Kinvara, where the 40th Anniversary of Cruinniu na mBad will be celebrated in 2019

The following week sees yet more four-sided sails dominate the scene, but this time it’s on the East Coast and the sails are white, as it’s the Optimist Nationals at Howth. Ever since the Youth Pathway Championship at Crosshaven in April, the competition will have been developing, and the only word for the pace will be intense, but the kids thrive on it.

September seems to have become a favoured month for World Championships in Ireland, and 2019 will see a real zinger, the Flying Fifteen Worlds at Dun Laoghaire hosted by the National YC sponsored by Subaru, with the fleet limited to 85 boats to which Ireland is automatically entitled to only seven. They may have been around for some time, but the Flying Fifteens continue to be a white-hot class, and the eventual overall winner could come from any one of half a dozen countries in an event which will be seen as part of the 150th Anniversary celebration of the much-admired National YC.

FF 2905Dublin Bay looking its best for the Flying Fifteens, which will hold their World Championship here in 2019

We cannot leave the sailing scene as it will be in Ireland in 2019 without reference to the growing good health of our classics. Any One Design Class goes through various inevitable periods of life, and a crucial stage is when extinction threatens. If they can survive that, then they tick over in a sort of limbo for some time (its length varies), but after that, there’s every chance they begin to be seen as classics, and their future become much more healthy.

The Howth Seventeens have successfully come through the limbo, and so too have the Mermaids, while all sorts of things are possible for the Dublin Bay 21s and their newer larger sisters, the Dublin Bay 24s. But way before either of them, the Water Wags emerged, and now their classic status has been recognised such that some time in 2019, they will pass through the threshold of 50 boats having been built to Maimie Doyle’s 1900 design. Their example is so inspiring that the old International 12s are now showing similar signs of a promising new life, though they’ve a very long way to go before they can match the Water Wags or the Shannon One Designs.

water wags lough ree13Dubin Bay Water Wags on Lough Ree – the class was originally founded in 1897, and in 2019 it will see the 50th boat built to this version, which was introduced in 1900

All this world of traditional and classic timber construction seems a different planet entirely to that of Safehaven Marine in Cork, where Frank Kowalski and his team build some of the most advanced powerboats in the world. Yet somehow in the midst of an exceptional work-rate, they found the time to establish a new Round Ireland and Rockall Powerboat Record two years ago. Now for 2019 their ambition is a crack at the Transatlantic Record by the northern route. It’s a fascinating project from any angle, and it’s just one of dozens of intriguing things that will be happening afloat in Ireland in 2019.

thunder child two14A computer impression of Safehaven Marine’s new Atlantic Record Challenger Thunder Child 2 in the ice of South Greenland. The plan for 2019’s record challenge by the northern route envisages a re-fuelling stop near Cape Farewell in Greenland

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Anyone who claims to comprehend every nuance of Ireland’s sailing story during 2018 is living in a state of happy delusion writes W M Nixon. For sure, much that happened followed the set path of the annual programme at home and abroad, as it has developed down the years. And as the season unfolded, it often produced results that were broadly in line with expectations.

But equally, there were bizarre twists of fate which found the sailing community and their supporters avidly following events afloat of a kind they’d never seen before, while time-honoured annual fixtures produced unprecedented outcomes.

It started almost immediately in January, when the traditional boat community in Ireland found its numbers growing and its international interest greatly increased with focus on Oldcourt in West Cork, where the restoration of the historic 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien trading ketch Ilen reached a crucial phase for the combined efforts of Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt, and their partners in the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick directed by Gary MacMahon.

In an eleven-year project which has had to stretch resources very thinly indeed at times to keep going at all, the task in January 2018 was to get the Ilen safely out of the ancient Top Shed at Oldcourt and into a re-fit berth where the complex work could be completed in order to have her available for sea trials and certification during the summer.

ilen at beacon2The restored 1926 ketch Ilen sails past the famous Baltimore Beacon in September. But back in January, there was still much work to do, including delicately-balanced boat moving operations in a very confined space. Photo: Ilen Network

In a modern fully-equipped yard this manoeuvre would be straightforward. But Oldcourt is a time capsule of ancient equipment, and a crowded one at that. So the fact that, despite occasional winter storms, in January there were halcyon days of complete calm when the moves were safely completed, clearly revealing that Ilen’s Guardian Angel was at work.

February by complete contrast was a month of glitzy happenings, with the style being set by the annual Volvo Sailor of the Year awards at the RDS in Dublin on Friday, February 9th. No other crowded and cheerful nautical happening gives a better overview of the Irish sailing and boating community in all its extraordinary diversity in a mood of happy celebration, and the applause rose to the rafters as Howth YC’s Conor Fogerty was announced as having emerged from a competitive field to be Sailor of the Year on the strength of his victory in the storm-tossed Single-Handed Transatlantic Race 2017.

He’d barely had time to digest that before he and a Howth team were off to race two boats in the RORC Caribbean 600 from Antigua, a notably heavy-weather event of torn sails in the Caribbean sunshine. Yet Fogerty won his class in his Sunfast 3600 Bam! for the second time, while clubmates Michael Wright and Kieran Jameson and their team on the chartered Lombard 46 Pata Negra took second in their class.

conor and annalise3Conor Fogerty, who became Sailor of the Year in February, with his predecessor in the role, 2016 Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy. Photo Brian Turvey
Back home, February also saw the annual early season gathering of the Optimists in force at Baltimore, when the hospitable West Cork port leaps out of any winter torpor to fill the harbour with small white four-sided sails in a mixture of competition and training. But then, just as February was morphing into March and we might have hoped for surer signs of spring, the Beast from the East in the form of Storm Emma arrived, and while the whole country was affected, the East Coast took a battering in storms hitting Force 11.

Even the mighty ramparts of Dun Laoghaire Harbour suffered on March 2nd with the base for the DBSC West Pier Starter’s Hut swept away, though the hut itself is fortunately removed in winter for safe keeping. But across Dublin Bay in Howth, the effect was more substantial with a boat storage shed on the East Pier so seriously damaged that it was feared the seven historic Howth 17s stored therein – some dating from 1898 - might all be lost.

But a remarkable community effort saw the damaged boats retrieved as soon as the weather had eased. Only one was a write-off, and as her ballast keel was saved, she is now being re-built according to international classic rules and through the good offices of Ian Malcolm at a French boat-building school in Douarnenez. This is part of an informal yet very real international movement to strengthen Ireland’s classic fleets, with new Dublin Bay Water Wags seemingly always coming along. In West Cork too, several specialist yards are turning out work of international standard. And new Mermaids have been built at Foynes, while across the Shannon Estuary at Kilrush, Steve Morris is re-building Dublin Bay 21s in a fascinating project inspired by Hal Sisk.

kilrush harbour4Thanks to the lock gates for the Marina, Kilrush Creek has ample space for closely fought university racing, and it is also home to high-standard boat-building projects.

Kilrush was the setting for an event which set everyone on the road to recovery from Storm Emma when good sailing weather arrived on the weekend of March 9th to 11th for the annual Irish Universities Team Championship, jointly staged by NUI Galway and University College Cork. A remarkable 194 students turned up to provide a huge diversity of teams, and from the midst of it University College Cork - captained by Brendan Lyden - emerged as the 2018 Champions.

The presence of Olympic hopeful Fionn Lyden of Baltimore in the successful Cork team was particularly encouraging. Since winning the All-Ireland Championship 2017 at Mullingar in October, Fionn Lyden’s training programme for the Olympic Finn had been seriously set back by a mysterious virus which saw him out of condition and losing weight.

Thus his appearance at Kilrush was good news, and he revealed later he’d been persuaded to go as part of a recovery plan, candidly admitting that being part of a team helped restore his mojo – the Olympic trail can be a lonely, exhausting and sometimes unhappy experience.

This proved to be the harbinger of other reminders that though Irish Sailing may seem - by comparison with other sports in this country – to get a very generous Sports Ireland grant for its Performance Sailing Squad currently aiming at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, by international standards it is minuscule. The Dutch Olympic sailors, for instance, have to “get by” on €18 million a year, with full support teams to match.

Irish Olympic hopefuls by contrast often seem to be on a solo run, despite the support of their families and friends and coaching setups stretched to the limits and beyond, and the stress can show. The dependence of a successful Olympic programme on avoidance of injury and illness was brought home to us all during 2018 not only by the virus which halted Fionn Lyden’s progress, but also by the many weeks lost by Aoife Hopkins’ plans in her Laser Radial campaign through a persistent infection of tonsillitis. And then the need for everything to be just right was underlined when the new Annalise Murphy/Katie Tingle 49erFX campaign was de-railed when Katie sustained a broken arm in a training accident in Dublin Bay.

annalise and katie5Not for the faint-hearted….Katie Tingle and Annalise Murphy training in their demanding 49erFX. Photo: O’Brien

But before all this began to slot into place, Irish sailing had a very special happening at the beginning of April, when Enda O’Coineen returned to Les Sables d’Olonnne to complete his inspirational round the world Vendee Globe in his own inimitable style. He may have done it in two parts instead of the Vendee Globe’s one, and he may have done it in two different boats after a dismasting and other damage, but he did it nevertheless in the well-established unsinkable Kilcullen style. And it’s arguable that he and his unique approach are now better remembered than the actual winner of what had begun as the 2016-2017 Vendee Globe.

enda ocoineen6The unsinkable Enda – thanks to his indomitable spirit, Enda O’Coineen is now probably the best-remembered of the participants in the Vendee Globe 2016-17
Back in mainstream Irish sailing, even with the structural timing changes imposed by the Volvo Ocean Race schedule, the Irish programme was busy, with the inaugural Wave Regatta at Howth at the start of June, sponsored by Wright Hospitality with a longterm planned biennial staging, building itself successfully round the traditional Lambay Race.

And by the time the Wave Regatta had arrived, so too had summer. But until the beginning of June, it had been a little uncertain about asserting itself. The Beast from the East at the beginning of March had ushered in an extended period of weather so cold and miserable that it became known as “the longest winter ever”. It went on through April, and though May had occasional bursts of good weather which increased as the month went on, it wasn’t until June that that summer really did arrive. And having done so, it overdid itself completely, giving two months of total sunshine which eventually became serious drought.

But despite the developing odd weather which may in fact be the New Normal under Climate Change, Irish sailing had been increasingly active in time-honoured style since April both at home and abroad, with Meathman Tom Dolan going on from his good placing in the Minitransat in November 2017 to take the First Rookie placing in the Figaro Two-Handed Transat in late April to the Caribbean, - a good omen for the big one itself, the URGO Figaro Solo in September when he’d be sailing Smurfit Kappa single-handed.

In a different area of sailing entirely, early April saw the annual Volvo Irish Sailing Youth Pathway National Championship at Dun Laoghaire, four days of racing slipped in under the weather radar with style to provide racing for a record fleet. It was hot racing in a cold climate which saw Jack Fahy of the co-hosting Royal St George YC (with NYC) win the Lasers from clubmate Tom Higgins in second and Jamie McMahon of Howth in third, while in the 420s Nicola and Fiona Ferguson of the National won from Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher of Malahide, with RStGYC’s Grace O’Beirne and Kathy Kelly third.

A tidy turnout of 78 Optimists – the biggest class – saw another Justin Lucas win which he shares between two clubs - Royal Cork and Tralee Bay – second slot going to Johnny Flynn of Howth and the George, whiles James Dwyer Matthews of Royal Cork and Kinsale was third.

justin lucas7Justin Lucas was winner of the Optimists, the biggest class at the Youth Pathway national in Dublin Bay. Photo O’Brien
The Laser 4.7s provided an excellent result for the Royal Cork who took first and third with Atlee Kohl and Cathal O’Regan, while Alana Coakley of RStGYC was undoubtedly top girl at second overall. And in the Toppers, it was again the Royal Cork which showed itself to be as much as club of the future as it is of the present and a very long and distinguished past, as they took first with David Jones in a fleet of 35, with Erin McIlwaine of Newcastle second and top girl, while Hugh O’Connor of the National was third.

It was the same Hugh O’Connor who was to go on in early August to take second in the Topper Worlds in China in a record fleet plagued by light airs at Shenzen. But by that time, Irish sailing at home was already looking back on the most fascinating season, with late April seeing club sailing coming to life with the usual incalculable input by enthusiastic volunteers. Meanwhile, towards the horizon the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association was also swinging into action, with Chris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia from the Royal St George YC showing signs that she’d a good season ahead to challenge the dominance of the Welsh-based Mojito.

Aurelia J122 chris power smith8Chris Power Smith’s J/122 Aurelia – seen here at the start of the Round Ireland Race at Wicklow – was one of the most consistent performers in 2018. Photo: O’Brien
From north of Dublin Bay, Pat Kelly from Rush and his family with the J/109 Storm – 2017 Irish J/109 Champions – spent May campaigning in Scotland, where they’d been attracted by the new RC 35 class for boats between 32ft and 38th LOA in the IRC rating band of 1.015 and 1.040, and they’d a fine old time of it, with two major regatta wins already recorded by the time they got to the Silvers Scottish Series at the end of the month.

That rounded out the Scottish raid in high style, with Storm winning the RC 35 Class and the top title, while John Hall’s J/109 Something Else (NYC) was second in the RC 35s, and in Class 1 the Douglas brothers from Carrickfergus won with their J/133 Jacana while second went to Conor Phelan’s Ker 36 Jump Juice from Royal Cork.

So the Irish returned to the Howth Wave Regatta the following weekend – June Bank Holiday - in fine form. After a dampish start on the Friday, summer was there to greet them big time on Saturday for a genuine fun event, with 164 boats at the core of the regatta. Some of them were determined to make sure that the victors of Scottish racing were brought down a peg or two, for although Storm had the special satisfaction of winning the 114-year-old Lambay Race itself, Andrew Algeo’s Juggerknot won the J/109 Class overall, while the Regatta Supreme Champion was Dave Cullen of HYC’s immaculately-prepared Half Ton Classic Checkmate XV, which then went on to win her class in all the Dun Laoghaire regattas in June and July.

checkmate howth9Dave Cullen’s classic Half Tonner Checkmate XV in the summery perfection of Howth Wave Regatta, which she won overall in a season-long string of successes which concluded with the overall victory in the Half Ton Classics International Championship in Belgium.

Late June meanwhile had seen two very different events. Towards the end of the month, Gregor McGuckin departed the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire in his beefed-up vintage Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance to get to the start of the Golden Jubilee Golden Globe Race from Les Sables d’Olonne on July 1st, a boat-size-and-equipment-restricted re-enactment of Robin Knox-Johnston’s pioneering non-stop global circumnavigation in the 32ft ketch Suhaili fifty years ago.

In its strict boat and equipment limitations, it provides probably the slowest way of getting round the world by boat in 2018, so it was quite a contrast to find that in late June, round Ireland unrestricted powerboat record holder John Ryan of Arklow was in Cork awaiting suitable conditions to establish a new Cork-Fastnet-Cork record.

all black cork powerboat10John Ryan’s Allblack SL44 created a new Cork-Fastnet-Cork record of 100.99 kph in June. Photo: Robert Bateman

They didn’t need a very big weather window as their boat Allback SL44 is capable of incredible speeds on mirror-like water. But by any standards the average speed they established of 100.99 kph – despite “moderate to rough” conditions - in a time of 2 hours 6 minutes 47 seconds is going to take some beating, and in its honour the Irish Powerboat Club inaugurated the FPT Allblack Trophy for challengers to aim for, giving it for safe keeping to the Royal Cork Yacht Club – the world’s oldest yacht club has 298 years of experience of looking after trophies…..

Around the time Allback SL44 record was being set, the fleet was gathering for the 20th staging of the Round Ireland Race from Wicklow, the biennial 704-mile classic which is now such a central part of the entire Irish sailing scene that almost everyone wants to have done it at least once, and many are “persistent offenders”.

High summer was on Wicklow Bay and Ireland generally as the fleet sped away in a brisk nor’easter, but it emerged that off the west coast, that brisk nor’easter was blowing old boots, and making north in the open Atlantic made for hard pounding.

round ireland fleet11The Round Ireland fleet started their 704 mile race in the peak of summer weather

Round Ireland map12The combined tracker charts reveal that some boats took real flyers to try to deal with the strong headwind conditions off the West Coast

Initially, this favoured the smaller boats which were making better time in the shelter of the south and southwest coasts, so much so that Niall Dowling (RIYC) with the much-fancied Ker 43 Baraka GP was lying in 24th overall as they battled against the Class 40 Corum for line honours along the north coast of Mayo. But as the rest of the fleet of 54 boats got into the full adversity of the Western Ocean, Baraka - with ace navigator Ian Moore on the strength - never put a foot wrong, and steadily worked her way up until she was out of sight ahead, taking line honours and the overall win.

Meanwhile, the coast of Donegal once again played havoc with hard-earned placings through flukey winds and localised calms, and those who did well, such as Chris Power Smith’s Aurelia and the J/109 Joker 2 (John Maybury, RIYC, skippered by Barry Byrne), did very well indeed, while others – it wouldn’t even be fair to mention them – found Donegal to be a complete gluepot, they were well stuck for hours.

In the end, it became a battle for the coveted Corinthian Trophy between Aurelia and Joker 2, and although at the finish Aurelia was briefly reckoned the winner, a re-appraisal of ratings gave it to Barry Byrne and his crew, a remarkable performance. Equally remarkable perhaps, but in a very different way, was the completion of the race by the classic 43ft 1937 Tyrrell-built gaff ketch Maybird (Darryl Hughes) the first time the race was ever sailed by a gaff rigged boat, and she was also the oldest ever to complete the course.

Joker 2 Defence forces13The J/109 Joker 2 (John Maybury) won the Corinthian Division in the Volvo Round Ireland Race, and successfully defended the Beaufort Cup in Volvo Cork Week, with a Defence Forces crew skippered by Commandant Barry Byrne. Photo: O’Brien

As the Round Ireland drew to its close, the four day Bangor Town Regatta on Belfast Lough – a joint venture between Royal Ulster YC, Ballyholme YC, and the local council - was getting into its stride in mostly superb sailing conditions. It was the successful modern revival of an ancient event, and attracted a fleet pushing towards a hundred, with the RC 35s over in strength from Scotland to promote their cause, so naturally, Pat Kelly and his team with Storm were there to take them on.

Storm missed the win by just one point, coming in a very close second to Kevin and Debbie Aitken’s First 36.7 Animal, which by season’s end was the 2018 RC 35 Champion. Storm meanwhile was saving her energies through the rest of July for a vigorous campaign at the Welsh IRC Nationals at Pwllheli and Abersoch in August, from which she emerged as overall winner, and also the winner of the RC 35s’ Celtic Championship for the combination of her results in the Scottish Series, Bangor Town Regatta, and the Welsh Championship.

Volvo Cork Week then came up on the radar, and inevitably its highlight is the Beaufort Cup series for Services Crews which is a very all-encompassing category, as it included, for instance, the formidable talents of Youen Jacob with the Baltimore Lifeboat crew racing a J/109. Defending champion, in a large and varied fleet in which J/109s were the boat of choice, was Commandant Barry Byrne and a Defence Forces crew with Joker 2 once more. At the series end, he was winner again after a mixture of inshore and offshore racing in which his results reminded some observers of a certain noted skipper who cheerfully admitted that he’d rather be lucky than thought of as good. Commandant Byrne is good as a helmsman too, but his ability to take wins when other boats seemed to be nearer the finish line was demonstrated in the 2018 Beaufort Cup series to a magical level.

miss whiplash14John & Ronan Dowling’s Half Tonner Miss Whiplash had a flawless final day at Volvo Cork Week to take the class victory. Photo: Robert Bateman

One of the best features of Volvo Cork Week generally was the way in which many classes went to the final day before results were decided, with John and Ronan Downing’s Half Tonner Miss Whiplash (RCYC) taking the overall win in style after overnight leader Harmony (Johnny Swann, HYC) got herself in a bit of a knot, despite having been the overall winner of the 92-strong Harbour Race on the Wednesday.

On up the size scale, and Frank Whelan’s Grand Soleil 44 Eleuthera from Greystones likewise put in a barn-storming final day’s performance with two wins, providing a well-deserved overall win for a recently-assembled yet rapidly-bonding crew who are prepared to put in the elbow grease on getting their boat in prime racing condition.

eleuthera spinnaker15Frank Whelan’s Grand Soleil 44 Eleuthera from Greystones was one of 2018’s star performers on both the east and south coasts. Hoto; O’Brien
Eleuthera was featuring strongly as the popular four day Calves Week got under way in Schull as August took hold. But as August took hold, for Ireland at least the total summer weather seemed to have come to an end except along the south coast, where at places like Schull and Kinsale in August they’ll tell you that the very occasional drop of rain is no more than liquid sunshine anyway…..

As it happens, while the underlying weather pattern may have been deteriorating, Schull was largely blessed by its own micro-climate, the coast of that most purely West Cork part of West Cork was looking its loveliest, and they’d some splendid sailing, with Eleuthera the Boat of the Show in an event which perfectly captures the holiday mood of the moment.

However, as the prizes were being liberally distributed at Schull, another event came centre stage down at Cowes with the four-yearly 1800 miles RORC Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race getting underway, with Conor Fogerty and Simon Knowles pitching for Ireland in the two-handed division in Fogerty’s Sunfast 3600 Bam.

At first, they were doing mighty well, but as the race progressed it became clear that all the two-handers were totally out-classed by two Volvo Ocean Race veterans from the successful Dongfeng. These super-tough guys were racing a Figaro 2 which just went faster and faster.

By the time they got to the west coast of Ireland where a westerly gale made in upon the fleet, the two Volvo tough men were in a race of their own, and it stayed that way to the end, so much so that it was almost irrelevant that Fogerty and Knowles had to retire after their last spinnaker halyard broke somewhere between Donegal and St Kilda.

Their frustration was not the only Irish disappointment caused by that very prolonged westerly gale. At the same time, it had been hoped to stage the Irish Cruiser Racer Association Nationals from Galway Harbour for the first time, but the fleet were stuck in port behind the harbour lock-gate as wind and waves came howling up Galway Bay, and the ICRA Nats 2018 became a non-event.

mermaid innocence16A popular success – Darragh McCormick won the mermaid nationals in his own-built Innocence at his home port of Foynes.
It was frustration in spades, but as ever, Irish sailing had an alternative story or three to cheer everyone up. Already in August we’d had the marvellous tale of how Darragh McCormick of Foynes had finally succeeded in winning the Mermaid National Championship in his beautiful own-built boat Innocence, and at his home port too, in a great week of racing. Darragh has shown he can race it with the best of them in J/24s and other newer boat types, but for him the Mermaid is everything, and this win was beyond everything.

Then even as things were being sadly packed up at Galway Harbour, the veteran GP 14s arrived in strength at Rosses Point in Sligo for their Irish Nationals. The weather relented at last, they got in a full programme, and ex-Pat Geep sailor Ross Kearney (RNIYC), having taken second overall at the Worlds in Cornwall a fortnight earlier, took the win though at times seriously veteran oldies like Curly Morris were giving him a hard time.

And then there’s the story of how the two little Half Tonners Checkmate XV (Dave Cullen) and Harmony (Johnny Swann) road-trailed their way from Howth to Belgium for the Half Ton Classics at Nieuwpoort, and how they came home a week later with the big cup and the second prize too, despite having very different management styles. Dave is a management perfectionist, with everything planned weeks and months and even years in advance, whereas Johnny tends to wing it – he’s not called Swann for nothing. Either way, it worked, and gave observers much enjoyment.

As for Olympic sailing, while the Hempel Sailing World Championship in August at Aarhus in Denmark (a fleet of 1,100 boats – can you even begin to imagine it?) was disappointing for the Irish contingent, with no place as yet secured for Tokyo, 2018 ended on something of a high, as the big-fleet Laser Nationals on Lough Derg in August showed rising talents, none more so than Aisling Keller of the host club, who won the 48-strong radial fleet in very convincing style.

dickson waddilove17Gold Medallists! Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove in the 49er

And then in September out of the blue, there came a Gold Medal from Marseille in the 49er Under 23 Worlds for Robert Dickson of Howth and Sean Waddilove of Skerries. This determined duo have been quietly building their campaign and racing skills for some years. But now, suddenly and in sometimes very breezy conditions in the south of France, it all clicked - they put together a text-book performance, and the Gold was well won.

September saw a rush of events, particularly in its first fortnight. Abroad, La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro in France, still known to every as the Figaro Solo, had added Irish interest with Tom Dolan of Meath in Smurfit Kappa and Joan Mulloy of Mayo in Taste the Atlantic taking part. It was first time for both in the 49th staging of a classic which next year, for its Golden Jubilee, will go foiling with the new Figaro 3 (Conor Fogerty has already ordered one), but for 2018 the versatile Figaro 2 continued to give great service.

In two weeks with four stages on the coasts of France and Spain, with the conclusion at St Croix on France’s Biscay coast, both Irish rookies had their moments, but although Joan Mulloy’s gallant challenge attracted much goodwill at home and abroad, despite times when she was in the frame, her overall placing showed what she was up against, and a month after the event was over, she announced that it as no longer possible in the time available to muster the resources for her Vendee Globe aspirations.

For Tom Dolan, a rigging failure which fortunately was saved from being a broken mast in the first leg put paid to his overall chances, and it wasn’t until the third stage, from Portosin in Spain across Biscay to St Croix, that he found form to be figuring among the top twelve, and finishing the leg as first rookie was good going by Figaro standards – the eventual overall winner, Sebastien Simon who already has a Vendee Globe 2020 campaign in place, was finally taking the Figaro’s top prize at his fifth attempt.

Back home, that first half of September saw Dublin Bay come centre stage on the international scene with the International SB20 Europeans staged by the Royal Irish YC, followed almost immediately by the daddy of them all, the World Laser Masters hosted in a remarkable exercise of logistics by the Royal St George with the support of the National YC and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council.

In the SB 20s, the competition was both truly international and very demanding, but three Irish boats managed to get into the top ten at the finish. And though the Russian Vis Sailing crew led by Artem Basalkin set the pace to take the Gold, that meticulous preparer of campaigns, Michael O’Connor of Royal St George crewed by Davy Taylor and Edward Cook put in a solid performance to take the bronze.

With more than 300 boats taking part with helms including many of world sailing’s legends of dinghy racing past and present, the utterly international Laser Masters World Championships 2018 was one of 2018’s megafests of global sailing, and Dublin Bay served up mostly quite brisk mainly westerly breezes to keep these seniors on their toes for a week of sailing.

For outsiders, there seemed an almost bewildering range of categories, but a day’s familiarity was all that was required to appreciate the difference between the Apprentice Masters and the Legends, with the many gradations between. Irish attention soon focused on the Grand Masters – sailors between 55 and 65 – and our 1996 Olympic Laser Representative Mark Lyttle of the National Yacht Club, who soon showed himself among the front runners in this category, but saved it until the last race to finally clinch the title, a very popular win.

mark lyttle sailing18The ultimate winning feeling – Mark Lyttle after taking the title in the Laser Grand Masters Worlds on the final day. Photo: O’Brien

The scale of the event, and the extraordinary variety and multi-faceted sailing stories of those taking part, would comfortably fill several books. But as ever, Dun Laoghaire’s historic harbour and waterfront stylishly welcomed the enormous fleet back to shore after each day’s racing, and many friendships were renewed or established among an exceptional group of people.

Yet even as these notable international championships dominated the headlines, more local series were drawing to a close, with the 2018 ISORA Championship going right to the wire in the last race in September with the James Eadie Cup, and once again Pwllheli’s J/109 Mojito (Vicky Cox and Peter Dunlop) pulled off the Wolf’s Head Trophy for overall winner by the smallest of margins.

On the inshore racing front, the elegant International Dragons took themselves to beautiful Glandore in considerable numbers for their four day Irish National Championships, and the winner in brisk conditions was Phantom (Neil Hegarty RStGYC, crewed by David Williams and Peter Bowring), but they’d to fight right to the end of the last race to snatch the title from Martin Byrne’s Jaguar (RStGYC) and Cameron Good of Kinsale’s Little Fella.

dragon phantom19Neil Hegarty’s Phantom became the 2018 Irish Dragon Champion at Glandore in September.

While the Dragon racing was at times rough going off Kinsale, it was beyond the bounds of comparison to draw any analogy with the wild wastes of the Southern Indian ocean, where the leaders in the Golden Jubilee Golden Globe Solo Round the World Race were at times battling survival conditions. Ireland’s Gregor McGuckin had been showing well overall with his veteran Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance, sailing along in third or fourth place, when on Friday September 21st he and his nearest competitor, Abilash Tomy of India who was 90 miles distant, were struck by the perfect storm. Both were rolled and lost their rigs, but while Tomy’s single roll was enough to leave him mastless and personally disabled with a fractured spine, it took two 360 degree rolls to complete the dismasting of McGregor’s boat.

Both boats were as far as possible from any significant land-based rescue and Tomy’s condition was potentially fatal, so despite the appallingly rapid rolling motion of a mastless boat in a chaotic sea, McGregor erected his jury rig with dogged persistence, and set off under sail and power to get to Tomy. He’d to hand steer all the way as nearly all systems on the boat were down, and had got to within 30 miles of the casualty when – unexpectedly early – help arrived in the form of the French Fisheries Patrol vessel Osiris, whose crew successfully rescued Abilash Tomy and then went to the Irish skipper, as it had been agreed that his total remoteness and limited resources pointed to a controlled evacuation of the Irish boat as the most seamanlike decision.

mcguckin boat jury20Gregor McGuckin's Hanley Energy Endurance under jury rig in his gallant attempt to help Abilash Tomy

The two solo sailors were taken to Amsterdam Island where Tomy – a serving naval officer – was retrieved by the Indian Navy and was soon undergoing spinal surgery, while McGuckin was collected by the Royal Australian Navy with HMAS Ballarat and taken to Perth to discover that his selfless act in performing superhuman feats of ingenuity in providing his crippled boat with the means to head towards Tomy had made him into a hero, and rightly so.

After this epic incident, it was a relief to return to the steadily unfolding pattern of the established Irish sailing season, and the final weekend of September saw the Flying Fifteen National Championship hosted in Dublin Bay by the National YC, an event of added significance as the same setup will be staging the 2019 Flying Fifteen Worlds. But that added importance didn’t upset the convincing style of Dave Gorman and Chris Doorly, who went into the final breezy day with such a good lead that they need only one more top six result to give them the title, and they duly delivered.

That same weekend, the All-Ireland Junior Championship in Dun Laoghaire was hosted by Royal St George and raced in classic style in Firefly dinghies. There was enough westerly wind around on the second day – as the Flying Fifteens were discovering out in the bay - for Race Officer David Lovegrove to move the racing into Dun Laoghaire’s capacious harbour, and if anything the competition heated up. But regular Dun Laoghaire sailing experience didn’t prove to be any advantage, as the Cork juniors were making hay, the overall win being taken by 16-yeat-old Atlee Kohl of Royal Cork YC, a top 29er and Laser 4.7 sailor, crewed by 14-year-old Jonathan O’Shaughnessy.

junior champs21Cut and thrust… for the All Ireland Junior Title, which was won by Atlee Kohl of Royal Cork. Photo O’Brien

Thus the junior title was won by a crew from the world’s oldest yacht club, so there was a certain symmetry when, a week later in the first weekend of October, the senior title, the time-honoured All-Ireland Helmsman’s Championship, was staged for its 71st occasion by Ireland and the world’s second-oldest yacht club, the 1770-founded Lough Ree YC near Athlone.

Last year, it was raced in GP 14s on Lough Owel near Mullingar, and again in 2018 it was a strong class association - in this case the SB 20s - which stepped up to the plate to provide the boats for an intensive weekend of competition in sometimes hectic sailing.

Theoretically, the SB 20s are a compromise boat which can suit dinghy or keelboat helms. But experience with the class was no drawback for former Olympian Peter Kennedy of Strangford Lough, who had won the SB 20 Nationals at the NYC in June crewed by Stephen Kane and Hammy Baker, and Kane was aboard with him at Lough Ree to ensure that his skipper added the historic silver salver to his trophy collection for 2018.

peter kennedy and salver22Peter Kennedy and Stephen Kane with their prizes at the All Ireland Championship at Lough Ree. Photo: Irish Sailing/David Branigan

On the same weekend, the Dublin Bay J/109s sent their finest to Howth for the Irish Nationals, and though after early racing in strong breezes Tim Goodbody (RIYC) in White Mischief was narrowly the overnight leader, the final day’s racing saw Juggerknot (Andrew Algeo & partners, RIYC) showing the excellent form she’d demonstrated all season to win overall with White Mischief second and Pat Kelly with Storm from the host club third.

j109 juggerknot23Irish J/109 National Champions 2018 – Juggerknot (Andrew Algeo & partners, RIYC) Photo: O’Brien

October can be the sweetest sailing month if a gentle Autumn settles in, and there was a special spirit to the KBC Autumn League at Howth, where the vintage Howth 17s showed they’d almost completely recovered from their setback in Storm Emma at the beginning of March, and were out racing in strength throughout the season and especially in September, with fourteen boats – including four of the original five 1898-built ones - coming to the line every Saturday.

howth seventeens24The indestructible Howth Seventeens are well advanced in their recovery from the damage of Storm Emma, and fourteen have been regularly racing in the KBC Autumn League at Howth, with Isobel, Sheila and Deilginis seen here at the weather mark on a perfect September day. Photo: W M Nixon

Conditions have been more varied on the south coast where the Royal Cork has been mustering a godly turnout for its Autumn League with a notably modern-looking fleet, but far to the west on the Shannon Estuary, classic gaff rig resumed a certain prominence, with the fully-restored and sea-certified Ilen returning at last to her home port of Limerick after 92 years away, her rapturous welcome including a charming visit to the ship and a meeting with her crew and restorers by President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina.

On down the Shannon Estuary at Kilrush, which is where our narrative of Ireland’s 2018 sailing seems to have begun, they had some of the best late season weather of all for their Autumn League. And there was a very special success when the community-built Shannon cutter replica Sally O’Keeffe, built by a group in Querrin out towards Loop Head under the direction of Steve Morris to a design by Myles Stapleton, was the winner of the non-spinnaker class in the opening race.

So having begun in Kilrush with 194 sailing students descending on the place for their annual Irish Universities Team Racing Championship in early March, we end our story back in Kilrush in October with a significant race win by a locally-built gaff cutter of a type nearly two hundred years old. In between these two place-related occurrences, it seems that quite a lot of things have happened. But that’s how it is in Irish sailing, and especially in 2018.

sally okeeffe25Local talent. The traditional cutter Sally O’Keeffe won the first race of the Autumn League at Kilrush

Published in W M Nixon
Tagged under
26th September 2018

What is the Future of Sailing?

Hello and welcome to my weekly Podcast …. Tom MacSweeney here …..

Sailing is at a “tipping point” across the water in the UK – with the future coterie of potential sailors, the “Millennials” as they are described, taking a different view of participation in the sport to the existing, though older age group.

Those differences include attitudes towards the purchase of boats and membership of clubs.

It seems that the modern way of living - easier and immediate access, renting rather than purchase and less tolerance of structures and regulations - are motivating forces.

A year-long research study for the British Marine Federation concluded that, in contrast to the “older age group” which traditionally and still – buys and maintains boats and holds club memberships, the “Millenials” want easier and instant access to sport and will go for those sports which provide it – “pay and play” – was the preferred approach…

The national body, Sport England, has identified less interest amongst young people in the established practices of race-style training, with more interest in the social aspects of sailing. An online platform, called Tendrr, has been set up connecting sailors, crews, boat owners and clubs and says that new paths are needed into sailing.

"The belief that they will return after marriage and early family development is not any longer quite so sure across the water"

Those are interesting trends and findings, which also point to cruising as more popular than racing, but question whether sailing needs to change its approach to attracting more people into the sport, indicating what is also an on-going concern here - the loss of the age group from the teenage years into the mid-30s from the sport. The belief that they will return after marriage and early family development is not any longer quite so sure across the water.

That’s an intriguing picture of the future of sailing as the end of the season approaches with the Autumn Leagues gearing up here, after which there will be the wind-down to hauling out into boatyards or marina berthage to wait out the winter, during which annual club meetings, may give a picture of the strength of sailing here and its future.

Published in Tom MacSweeney
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The Half Ton Class was created by the Offshore Racing Council for boats within the racing band not exceeding 22'-0". The ORC decided that the rule should "....permit the development of seaworthy offshore racing yachts...The Council will endeavour to protect the majority of the existing IOR fleet from rapid obsolescence caused by ....developments which produce increased performance without corresponding changes in ratings..."

When first introduced the IOR rule was perfectly adequate for rating boats in existence at that time. However yacht designers naturally examined the rule to seize upon any advantage they could find, the most noticeable of which has been a reduction in displacement and a return to fractional rigs.

After 1993, when the IOR Mk.III rule reached it termination due to lack of people building new boats, the rule was replaced by the CHS (Channel) Handicap system which in turn developed into the IRC system now used.

The IRC handicap system operates by a secret formula which tries to develop boats which are 'Cruising type' of relatively heavy boats with good internal accommodation. It tends to penalise boats with excessive stability or excessive sail area.


The most significant events for the Half Ton Class has been the annual Half Ton Cup which was sailed under the IOR rules until 1993. More recently this has been replaced with the Half Ton Classics Cup. The venue of the event moved from continent to continent with over-representation on French or British ports. In later years the event is held biennially. Initially, it was proposed to hold events in Ireland, Britain and France by rotation. However, it was the Belgians who took the ball and ran with it. The Class is now managed from Belgium. 

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At A Glance – Half Ton Classics Cup Winners

  • 2017 – Kinsale – Swuzzlebubble – Phil Plumtree – Farr 1977
  • 2016 – Falmouth – Swuzzlebubble – Greg Peck – Farr 1977
  • 2015 – Nieuwport – Checkmate XV – David Cullen – Humphreys 1985
  • 2014 – St Quay Portrieux – Swuzzlebubble – Peter Morton – Farr 1977
  • 2013 – Boulogne – Checkmate XV – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1985
  • 2011 – Cowes – Chimp – Michael Kershaw – Berret 1978
  • 2009 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978
  • 2007 – Dun Laoghaire – Henri-Lloyd Harmony – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1980~
  • 2005 – Dinard – Gingko – Patrick Lobrichon – Mauric 1968
  • 2003 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978

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