Martin Byrne of Dun Laoghaire is the Afloat.ie/Irish Independent "Sailor of the Month" for July with his convincing victory in the Irish Dragon Championship on Belfast Lough, a four-day event of first class racing which concluded on Sunday July 25th at Cultra.
Like so many sailing happenings which are proving successful in these stringent times, there was a distinct blast of the past about the Open Nationals 2010. The Royal North of Ireland YC at Cultra was once the leading club in the country for Dragon racing. But the creation of marinas serving Belfast Lough at Carrickfergus and Bangor meant that the pleasant waterfront club in a leafy suburb of Holywood seemed to be left behind in sailing development.
Yet the sailing waters are still there, and the people are still there too. It was local resident Simon Brien, a leading Dragon racer in Ireland and abroad, who led the movement to bring the class back to Cultra. As he has been Irish champion more than once in his 16 years in the class, Dragon sailors at home and overseas took notice. With Belfast Harbour Commission as lead sponsors, the visiting boats were craned into Belfast Docks, and the fleet of 18 top Dragons made a race of it over the four miles to Cultra where they lay out on moorings, just like the good old days.
Martin Byrne, centre with trophy at the Dragon Nationals prizegiving
Crewed by longtime shipmate Adam Winklemann, and Portuguese sailmaker Pedro Andrade, Martin Byrne sailing Jaguar put his stamp on the racing from the start. In fact, the Dublin Bay boats were making hay, as Don O'Donoghue (also of Glandore) finished second overall, with Andrew Craig third. The level of racing is indicated by Klaus Diederichs, crewed by the formidable lineup of Andy Beadsworth and Jamie Lea, being back in fourth, while Simon Brien himself was in fifth, though he and his team of David Gomes and David Good took the prize for top totally amateur crew.
It was good to see the Dragons back in force where they mean a lot to sailing heritage. And it was in an area getting used to sporting success – Rory McIlroy's place is just up the road. But for now in sailing, Martin Byrne is ahead of the pack.