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John D “Cas” Smullen 1930-2017

28th June 2017
At home in boats and sailing. The late Cas Smullen (right) in relaxed mode on main-boom control duties aboard a Dublin Bay 24 sailing fast offshore At home in boats and sailing. The late Cas Smullen (right) in relaxed mode on main-boom control duties aboard a Dublin Bay 24 sailing fast offshore Photo: courtesy Jean Smullen

With his death at the age of 87, the loss of Cas Smullen deprives Irish sailing of a total enthusiast whose dedication to our sport was central to his entire existence. Such was his exuberant enjoyment of sailing that one of his many skippers remarked that, if your own delight in sailing was wilting in any way, you only had to spend a few days afloat in Cas’s company to find the flame of your personal enthusiasm being re-kindled with full vigour.

While his last ten years were restricted by illness and the ongoing effects of a stroke in 2007, his brain was sharp to the end, and he continued to enjoy convivial visits to his beloved National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire, where his membership was a record-breaking 71 years.

Although he wasn’t from a sailing family, in his youth he attracted the sailing community’s attention through his prowess as a swimmer, both in the harbour and as a star at Blackrock Baths, where he was a regular and stylish performer off the top diving board. Skippers looking for able-bodied young men for crewing duties in the Dun Laoghaire fleet rightly reckoned that young Smullen might have what it takes, and by the time he was 16, he was an active regular in a sport which fitted him like a glove.

So popular was he as a crew - and often in effect the skipper - that in his long sailing career, he never personally owned a boat. The nearest he came to it was when he built a Mirror dinghy for his son Johnny, who has since gone on to become the California-based classic yacht-builder to America’s Cup legend Dennis Conner, so the effects of that one experience have carried further than anyone could have imagined.

cas smullen2A Dublin Bay 21 in all her gaff-rigged finery. The class was contemplating changing to Bermudan rig in 1963 “to save time”, but Cas Smullen reckoned he could rig one single-handed in less than 15 minutes. The class challenged him to put on a display at the National YC, while they watched. He did it in nine minutes.

Cas Smullen was the quintessential Dublin Bay yachtsman, as his entire working life was spent as an insurance broker. This gave his day-to-day life a regularity which is unknown to many in today’s more restless working environment. For weeks on end – if he wasn’t away cruising or on some offshore racing campaign – he would invariably be racing without fail in the Dublin Bay SC fleet every Thursday evening, and again every Saturday afternoon.

It would take a substantial book to record all his cruises, as he became a member of the Irish Cruising Club in 1961. As for offshore racing, as a longtime member of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, he was fully into it at every level including sailing as a member of the Irish Admiral’s Cup team in 1969. But even with all those experiences, it was Dublin Bay sailing which was at the core of his sailing way of life, and he was a particular devotee of the Dublin Bay 21 Class, and then of the Dublin Bay 24 Class, especially noted for his skill in getting the best out of boats when racing in light airs.

He was in the heart of the Dublin Bay 21s in 1962-63 when the owners debated changing them from their demanding jackyard topsail-setting cutter gaff rig to a more easily-handled Bermudan sloop. On hearing that one of the reasons they wanted to change was that the boats could be more quickly rigged for racing, he claimed that this was nonsense. He said it didn’t take more than 15 minutes to rig them single-handed, and he would show them how, just to prove it.

The story has come down the ages that one of the Dublin Bay 21s was brought in close to the National YC with all sails harbour-stowed, and an audience gathered on the balcony, drinks in hand, to watch Cas Smullen rig the boat in a quarter of an hour. The word was that he achieved it with style, but they went ahead and changed to Bermuda rig anyway.

cas smullen3The Johnston family’s Dublin Bay 24 Harmony racing in the Dublin Bay Woodenboat Regatta of 1997 with Cas Smullen on board. Photo: W M Nixon

We recounted that story again recently on, and his daughter Jean – the nationally-known wine expert – took her laptop into the hospital to read it to him. He much enjoyed it, but with eyes sparkling despite his infirmity, he firmly insisted on one correction. It was actually all done in nine minutes - not fifteen. We are more than happy to take this opportunity to put the record straight on that point in the definitive Cas Smullen story. In extending our heartfelt condolences to his family in their loss of this unique, great and much-loved character, it is in the knowledge that the world of Irish sailing has been a better and more interesting place for having had Cas Smullen in the heart of it. 


Published in National YC Team

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The home club of Laser Radial Olympic Silver medalist Annalise Murphy, the National Yacht Club is a lot more besides. It is also the spiritual home of the offshore sailing body ISORA, the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race and the biggest Flying Fifteen fleet in Ireland. Founded on a loyal membership, the National Yacht Club at the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire on Dublin Bay enjoys a family ethos and a strong fellowship in a relaxed atmosphere of support and friendship through sailing.

Bathing in the gentle waterfront ambience of Dun Laoghaire on the edge of South County Dublin, the National Yacht Club has graced the waters of the Irish Sea and far beyond for more than a century and in 2020 celebrates its sesquicentennial.  

The club is particularly active in dinghy and keelboat one-design racing and has hosted three World Championships in recent years including the Flying Fifteen Worlds in 2003, 2019 and the SB3 Worlds in 2008. The ISAF Youth Worlds was co-hosted with our neighbouring club the Royal St. George Yacht Club in 2012...

National Yacht Club Facilities

Facilities include a slipway directly accessing Dun Laoghaire Harbour, over eighty club moorings, platform parking, pontoons, fuelling, watering and crane-lifting ensure that the NYC is excellently equipped to cater for all the needs of the contemporary sailor. Berths with diesel, water, power and overnight facilities are available to cruising yachtsmen with shopping facilities being a short walk away. The club is active throughout the year with full dining and bar facilities and winter activities include bridge, snooker, quiz nights, wine tasting and special events.

National Yacht Club History

Although there are references to an active “club” prior to 1870, history records that the present clubhouse was erected in 1870 at a cost of £4,000 to a design by William Sterling and the Kingstown Royal Harbour Boat Club was registered with Lloyds in the same year. By 1872 the name had been changed to the Kingston Harbour Boat Club and this change was registered at Lloyds.

In 1881. the premises were purchased by a Captain Peacocke and others who formed a proprietary club called the Kingstown Harbour Yacht Club again registered at Lloyds. Some six years later in 1877 the building again changed hands being bought by a Mr Charles Barrington. and between 1877 and 1901 the club was very active and operated for a while as the “Absolute Club” although this change of name was never registered.

In 1901, the lease was purchased by three trustees who registered it as the Edward Yacht Club. In 1930 at a time when the Edward Yacht Club was relatively inactive, a committee including The Earl of Granard approached the trustees with a proposition to form the National Yacht Club. The Earl of Granard had been Commodore of the North Shannon Y.C. and was a senator in the W.T.Cosgrave government. An agreement was reached, the National Yacht Club was registered at Lloyds. The club burgee was created, red cross of Saint George with blue and white quarters being sky cloud, sea and surf. The Earl of Granard became the first Commodore.

In July of 1950, a warrant was issued to the National Yacht Club by the Government under the Merchant Shipping Act authorising members to hoist a club ensign in lieu of the National Flag. The new ensign to include a representation of the harp. This privilege is unique and specific to members of the National Yacht Club. Sterling’s design for the exterior of the club was a hybrid French Chateau and eighteenth century Garden Pavilion and today as a Class A restricted building it continues to provide elegant dining and bar facilities.

An early drawing of the building shows viewing balconies on the roof and the waterfront façade. Subsequent additions of platforms and a new slip to the seaward side and most recently the construction of new changing rooms, offices and boathouse provide state of the art facilities, capable of coping with major international and world championship events. The club provides a wide range of sailing facilities, from Junior training to family cruising, dinghy sailing to offshore racing and caters for most major classes of dinghies, one design keelboats, sports boats and cruiser racers. It provides training facilities within the ISA Youth Sailing Scheme and National Power Boat Schemes.

Past Commodores

1931 – 42 Earl of Granard 1942 – 45 T.J. Hamilton 1945 – 47 P.M. Purcell 1947 – 50 J.J. O’Leary 1950 – 55 A.A. Murphy 1955 – 60 J.J. O’Leary 1960 – 64 F. Lemass 1964 – 69 J.C. McConnell 1969 – 72 P.J. Johnston 1972 – 74 L. Boyd 1974 – 76 F.C. Winkelmann 1976 – 79 P.A. Browne 1979 – 83 W.A. Maguire 1983 – 87 F.J. Cooney 1987 – 88 J.J. Byrne 1988 – 91 M.F. Muldoon 1991 – 94 B.D. Barry 1994 – 97 M.P.B. Horgan 1997 – 00 B. MacNeaney 2000 – 02 I.E. Kiernan 2002 – 05 C.N.I. Moore 2005 – 08 C.J. Murphy 2008 – 11 P.D. Ryan 2011 – P. Barrington 2011-2014 Larry Power 2014-2017 Ronan Beirne 2017 – 2019

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