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#irishsailing – After five years of economic contraction, there are signs of recovery, and the 2014 Irish sailing season has also got off to a flying start. W M Nixon looks at various signs of new energy and initiatives, and sees how they might be affecting stories which have been run on this blog and in the Afloat.ie website during the past year. But he concedes that further cost reductions will be necessary for the good of the sport.

A year ago, any talk of green shoots in Ireland was almost entirely metaphorical. And it was in the economic sphere, though even there they were still few and far between, with many soon stunted. But out in the farmers' fields themselves, out where the grass should have been growing, there was scarcely a sign of life as we were still trapped in the coldest and most miserable Spring in living memory, and all forms of growth and recovery were blighted by it.

Sailing and boating, of all sports, are the most affected by Ireland's climatic conditions. Not only is the mood among participants strongly influenced by weather which sometimes can get anyone down, but without reasonable breezes, sailing events are seriously impaired. "We got a result!" may well be the PRO's final desperate claim after pulling some sort of a points table and leaderboard out of a series bedevilled either by too much or too little wind. But it's so much better to have a series bathed in sunshine and blessed by fine breezes, with enough races sailed for the crews to go home tired but happy without needing recourse to any of those weasel words which show you're only trying to justify a weekend of frustration.

Things could not be more different this year. The Spring of 2014 has been perfection, boats are going afloat on time and in reasonable weather conditions, and the first little crop of events and results are very encouraging indeed - so encouraging, in fact, that "little crop" doesn't do them justice.

That said, two of the nearer events which gave special cause for Irish celebration did not have perfect weather throughout. The Youth Sailing Nationals at Howth may have ended on a high with a great breeze in an early taste of summer sunshine, but one day out of the four was lost to bad weather. But the sting of that was lessened by the decision for "no racing all day" being taken at 1100hrs, which allows other leisure options to kick in.

The IRC Easter Championship in the Solent concluded through Easter Monday literally with "Darkness at Noon" – the heavy clouds and torrential rain on an almost windless day saw the final races being sailed with nav lights on. But there had been excellent racing on earlier days, and a very excellent result with Anthony O'Leary's Ker 39 Antix from Cork the clear supreme champion.

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Doing the business. Anthony O'Leary's Ker 39 Antix settling into the groove on the way to the top place in the Easter IRC Championship. Photo: Rick Tomlinson

That in turn augured well for Ireland's Commodore's Cup chances, which then received a further boost last weekend when the crew of another Irish team wannabe, Quokka with Michael Boyd and Niall Dowling, had a winning weekend in the Warsash series with their temporary mount Tarka in anticipation of Quokka's return from the Caribbean at the end of May.

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The Colours Match team racing between UCD and Trinity served up top sport in the Liffey, with Trinity winning. Photo: W M Nixon

Meanwhile the universities racing has been brought to life, for although UCD had a convincing win in the racing with the SailFleet J/80s to become the Irish team for the Student Yachting Worlds in France in the Autumn, before April was out the Colours Match in the Liffey under the burgee of the Royal Alfed YC, team-raced in Fireflies, saw Trinity take the honours in convincing style.

But if we're looking for something which really did set things freshly alight, it was out in Hyeres where the ISAF Championship saw the northern duo of Ryan Seaton & Matt McGovern take silver in the 49er, almost immediately moving them up the global rankings from 33 to 11, a quantum leap and no mistake.

The potential for serious success by these two has been fairly obvious for some time, but anyone who sails boats will know only too well how many factors have to come into alignment to get you up among the magic metals at the end of the day.

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Stars of the silver sea – the Seaton/McGovern team took a silver medal for Ireland at Hyeres.

That their new global status was almost immediately acknowledged by this rankings improvement will in turn add heft to everything they do and say. Thus when, some time ago, the Ryan/Seaton equipe suggested that the 2016 Olympics sailing waters in Brazil are so off the standard as to be a health hazard, it attracted polite attention. But now that they're Number 11, and still counting down, much more notice is taken. And the fact that the Vice President of the International Olympic Committee has suggested, with something approaching despair, that the facilities in Brazil just aren't going to be ready for 2016 at any standard, all gives added legs to the statement from Ireland's 49er crew.

This in turn makes us wonder where world sailing might go in 2016 if the Brazilian setup is still Work in Progress. With tongue only slightly in cheek, we suggest they need look no further than West Cork, where Baltimore Sailing Club has been expanding its facilities to meet increased demand as a club which last year introduced something like 700 people to sailing. That BSC and current Mitsubishi Motors "Club of the Year" Kinsale YC further east along the West Cork coast have both been putting in premises up-grade during the past year, while other clubs have been having it tough, and just about hanging in there in some cases, surely gives pause for thought.

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Olympic venue? The extended and up-graded Baltimore Sailing Club is ready and raring to go.

The economic shakeout of the past five years has caused a massive write-down in the value of almost all property and other assets. And in the case of yacht and sailing clubs, there has been a detailed examination of the continuing validity, or otherwise, of established yacht clubs and their traditional business model of quite high subscriptions under-writing other facilities which in turn combine to provide the complete package of an orthodox yacht club.

Inevitably, most clubs are run by officers and committee members who have been involved with the club for many years. Thus, like people who have been running a quality hotel for decades, they may have an inflated notion of what their organisation and its premises are actually worth. Admittedly there's only limited usefulness in comparing a yacht club with a hotel, but lessons can surely be learned. The fact is that hotels today are worth maybe only a third or even less of what they were reckoned to be worth six years ago. And equally, while yachts clubs certainly have a unique package to offer, is it unusual enough and special enough to charge high subscriptions when there are alternative facilities and services available?

The dilemma arises to some extent in all sailing centres. Last week we were discussing the story of the development of Howth YC. Today it is in the seemingly happy situation of having its own marina, thus it theoretically can offer an attractive all-in-one package to any potential member. But the very fact that Howth YC has done so much to help make Howth a colourful and vibrant sailing/fishing port is partly to its own disadvantage. The place has developed as a remarkable focus for top seafood restaurants. This means that the extensive club catering facilities – expected by traditional members - are constantly battling for business with a whole slew of award-winning eateries and characterful pubs nearby.

The problem is more acute in Dun Laoghaire in that the only club within the marina area is the Royal Irish YC. Thus while people may have been loyal members of the National, the Royal St George and the Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club, they find that after going out in the boat, it's very easy to round out the evening aboard in the marina, chatting among themselves or with other crews on boats nearby, and then head straight for home without making their number in their home clubs at all.

This situation is less in evidence at weekends and during special events. But nevertheless it was causing such a lessening in mid-week club vitality that various steps have been taken, and the Royal St George's move to take over berths in a block booking in the outer marina, and service them by a frequent ferry direct from the clubhouse, is a visionary step.

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The Royal St George YC has introduced a direct ferry service from the clubhouse to its group of berths in the outer marina in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: David O'Brien

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To overcome a lack of direct access to the Dun Laoghaire Marina, the Royal St George YC is running a ferry service from its clubhouse (to right of Stena Ferry, foreground) to the berths in the Outer Marina (upper left) Photo Kevin Dwyer/courtesy ICC.

Nevertheless, in all club administrations there are those who are of the opinion that, whatever the Honorary Treasurers may believe, there has to be a radical re-think of the primary subscription levels. In essence, they're suggesting that the book value of the club has to be written down such that subscriptions are halved. Personally, I haven't much of a notion of how to read a balance sheet, but the dogs in the street know that in the hospitality industry – which, in the broadest sense, is the area in which yacht and sailing clubs operate – values have been savagely slashed, and while charges may still seem high, at least the places are surviving as going concerns.

With continuing reduction in expenses across the board, one area in which there seems to be much work afoot is in the Irish Sailing Association, which in latter days had begun to seem like some hidden corner of the civil service, existing more for the benefit of staff than for the provision of services for sailors. It's amazing to learn that the ISA has sixteen fulltime staff, and a basic annual wages bill of something like €600,000. When you add in the expected benefits, it musty come in total to a very tidy yearly sum.

What on earth do they all do? While you'll invariably find the ISA logo in prominence at some top events, it has to be said that you're entirely unaware of the organisation's existence in any form at more everyday happenings, and it doesn't seem to be because they believe in doing good work by stealth. But with special study groups resulting from the major changes introduced in the ISA setup at the AGM in March, we can only hope that in time the Association will reflect the cost-cutting which has had to be introduced in the clubs, which provide the main part of the ISA's income.

While the administrative structures are rightfully being pared back in many areas of our sport, the coastal infrastructure, on which all forms of seagoing ultimately depend, continues to need maintenance and development. In this area, one very promising green shoot is the news that there are signs of movement in Dunmore East. A dredging programme is getting under way, and just this Tuesday, Minister for Marine Simon Coveney TD convened a meeting in the port to inaugurate a community approach to harbour development which, it is hoped, will help to invigorate the many places around Waterford Estuary, for which Dunmore East has the potential to be the true gateway harbour.

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Dunmore East – can it fulfil its potential as the gateway leisure port for the Waterford Estuary? Photo Kevin Dwyer, courtesy ICC

In a more extreme marine environment, it has been confirmed that €6 million will be spent on improving the pier at Doolin in northwest Clare, the nearest mainland quay to the Aran Islands, which also caters for the tour boats cruising along the Cliffs of Moher. While the locals seem well pleased, I wouldn't get too excited about it. This is one very rugged part of the coast, and when you remember that it took €31 million to extend the pier at Kilronan in Inismor, the main Aran island, and another €14 million to build the little harbour at the north end of Inis Meain, the middle Aran island, then we can only hope that €6 million is going to achieve something more than a few boulders being shifted about in the roaring ocean at Doolin.

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The pier at Doolin is decidedly minimalist, but it provides the shortest sea passage to the Aran Islands. Photo: W M Nixon

But then, in the west all things are possible, and along the ocean seaboard we're told that four thousand signs are being erected to guide people along the Wild Atlantic Way, the new tourism initiative using many smaller coastal roads. Quite so. Frankly, with signage at this level, it will be the Tame Atlantic Way by the time half of them are in place. I have to admit to being a complete curmudgeon in this. In many years of transitting Ireland's west coast by sea and land, one of our favourite areas while driving along the west coast has long been the coast south of Kilkee down to Loop Head, where the cliffs comfortably rival anything the vulgar Cliffs of Moher have to offer, and it is magnificently uncrowded. But not any more, if the Wild Atlantic Way movement has its way.

While I appreciate that visitor numbers have to be kept up and increased whenever and however, it has to be done in a way which appreciates that's what brings people to Ireland (rather than just to Dublin, which is a special case) is an unspoilt landscape. So, four thousand signs just for the one Atlantic Way? Ogden Nash had something to say about this:

"I think that I shall never see,
A billboard lovely as a tree.
But then, until the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all".

Be that as it may, the final sign that suggests things are on the move again is a notice I spotted recently posted at a nearby club, though language pedants might wonder how a notice which manages to mangle so utterly the plural of "dinghy", even to adding a completely superfluous greengrocer's apostrophe, could be seen as encouraging in any way whatsoever.

Well, once you've overcome your opinions about the errors, the underlying message must be good news. More youngsters are evidently coming to sailing this year. And as for the spelling mistake, even that's an improvement. A year ago, the same notice board opened by referring to something called "a dingy", but this time round we have to get to the second line before finding that. And it all comes right for dinghies in the end.

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Sign of the times? Whatever about the spelling, this current notice at an Irish sailing club has an underlying message of good news. Photo: W M Nixon

Published in W M Nixon

#swchyeres – In a significant boost to their campaign for Rio 2016, Irish Olympic skiff sailors Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern from Belfast Lough are medal contenders at the final day of the ISAF World Cup regatta in France tomorrow. The 49er duo finished five days of fleet racing this afternoon in third place overall. Of 80 teams competing, only the top 10 will now sail a further three races on Saturday – each worth double points – to determine the medals. Although 23 points separate the NI pair from Kiwi leaders Peter Burling and Blair Tuke the gold is still within reach.

Laser radial sailor Annalise Murphy will also be competing in a medal race tomorrow. The Laser Radial class will only have one double points race before the gold, silver and bronze are awarded. Murphy is currently lying in eighth place but separated from the top three by 36 points.

Three other Irish teams also competing at the event finished racing today. In the Paralympic Sonar class John Twomey, Ian Costelloe and Austin O'Carroll finished in seventh place overall. Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey finished 16th out of 42.  James Espey was sailing in the men's Laser Standard fleet of 123 and finished 71st.

Published in Olympic

#49er – Ireland's 49er duo Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern continue to hold second overall as the ISAF Sailing World Cup Hyères reached a critical stage on the French south coast.

Scoring 18,15 and 8 today they stay second overall narrowly ahead of Kiwi pair Marcus Hansen and Josh Porebski.

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL) showed a fine display of racing on the 49er course to stay out of trouble, avoiding a double point score like many of their competitors succumbed to. A ninth in the opening bout was followed up with a fourth and a ninth and they have a healthy 22 point lead with two days remaining.

Seaton and McGovern held on to second overall but they found the going tough discarding an 18th and count a 15th and an eighth to trail the Kiwis on 72 points. They are just a single point ahead of Hansen and Porebski 

Germany's Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel started the day emphatically in the gold fleet and in Race 10 narrowly missed out on the bullet to Manu Dyen and Stephane Christidis (FRA) as they came through in second. In Race 11 they hit back hard and were truly dominant. Leading from the outset they never truly looked threatened and eased through to a 15 second victory overall Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (AUS).

Unfortunately it did not go to plan in the final race of the day for the Germans as a 25th puts them in ninth overall.

The final bullet of the day went to David Evans and Ed Powys who are 11th overall.

Over 1,100 sailors are competing at the fifth and final stage of the 2013-2014 ISAF Sailing World Cup series and it was long day out on the water with the last race concluding at 20:01 local time.

Following a delayed start to the day a shifty 10-12 knot westerly breeze tested the sailors' and the race committees. 

Published in Olympic

#rio – An Irish Olympic sailing coach has slammed the future Olympic waters of Rio as 'disgusting', according to the Belfast Telegraph. Ian Barker, who won a silver medal for Britain in the Sydney 2000 Olympics' 49er class and now coaches Ireland, said it was the worst he had seen after sailing in 35 countries.

Sailors have expressed disgust at the filthy state of the Brazilian waters in which they will race at the 2016 Olympics, with a former British star describing it as a "sewer".

Barker was coach to Ireland's Tom Fitzpatrick and Frazer Brown in Athens 2004 and more recently to London 2012's Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern.

He said sailors in training had to stop to disentangle their rudders from rubbish.

"It's a sewer," he told the Telegraph. "It's absolutely disgusting. Something has to be done about it. But you need the political will for these things to happen and at the moment it's not there."

"I've been sailing all over the world for 20 years now, and this is the most polluted place I've ever been," said Allan Norregaard, a Danish bronze medalist in the 2012 London Olympics.

"It's really a shame because it's a beautiful area and city, but the water is so polluted, so dirty and full of garbage."

The Belfast Telegraph has much more on the story including photos of the pollution here

Published in Olympic
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#49er – Irish 49er skiff duo Ryan Seaton & Matt McGovern from Belfast have finished outside their target of top 10 in their first world championships on the road to Rio 2016 but have nevertheless posted a credible 14th overall in a 90–boat fleet.  And in the women's 49erfx class Ireland's Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey who have only been sailing together for two months had a good regatta for their first event finishing 36th. The highlight of the event for the new team was a race win in the silver fleet on the penultimate day in the 53–boat fleet.

In both the men's 49er and women's 49erFX the day started with a petit final which was made up of the sailors who were in 10th – 20th position in the Gold Fleet and the winner competed in the three final races with the top 10 afterwards.

Seaton and McGovern finished in 16th in the petit final which left them in 14th position overall in the regatta.

It was a good event for Team NZL who won the event with Burking & Tuke and their teammates Hansen & Porebski finished in 2nd place. Australia's Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen, London 2012 Gold medalists finished in 5th place.

Published in Olympic

#irish49er – Ryan Seaton & Matt McGovern are 12th overall after Day 2 of the 49er World Championships. The Belfast lough pairing were placed 9th, 14th and 5th in the 97 boat fleet. 
For full results and live tracking see http://49er.org/2013-world-championships/

Published in Olympic

#49er – For the first time in many years, Ballyholme Yacht Club (BYC) orgsnisers on Belfast lough are hoping for double figures for the Mackey Opticians sponsored Irish 49er nationals, especially if a few of the Dublin fleet travel for the October 5th event.

It will be a very busy weekend at Ballyholme bay with Race 4 of the Autumn Series on Sunday morning and Race 1 of the BYC Icebreaker series on Sunday morning.

London 2012 Olympians Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern (currently competing at the 49er worlds in Marseille, France) have been working hard to organise boats for all the competitors.

There will be practice racing on Friday 4th for those who haven't stepped on a 49er in a number of years or ever before.

The briefing will be at 10:30 on Saturday morning with races starting as soon as possible afterwards. We hope for 6 quick races on Saturday with 3-4 on Sunday starting earlier. Sailing instructions will be available at the briefing and will be dependent on the weather conditions.

There is a perpetual trophy available for the winning 49er and Mackey Opticians are donating two pairs of polarized sunglasses (value up to £150 each) for the winning pair.

Published in Olympic

#49er – Skiff duo Ryan Seaton & Matt McGovern will compete in the 49er World Championships in France next week along with new Irish women's combination Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey in the new 49erFx skiff class.

The six day and potential 25 race regatta held in Marseille  will be the biggest test of the year for the London 2012 partnership, especially as team bosses are already talking up the prospect of a 'replication of the recent successes of Olympic teammate Annalise Murphy', the new Laser European champion. The pair are targeting a solid top 10 finish to keep Rio plans on track.

Included in the 96–boat fleet will be three-time World Champions and London 2012 Gold medallists Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen from Australia who have most recently been competing in the America's Cup. Kiwis Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, London 2012 Silver medallists and 2013 49er European Champions will also be in attendance. With the Worlds being late in the season it has given everyone a chance to get back up to speed post Olympics. Without doubt this will be the toughest event of 2013. 

This championship will conclude what has been a busy summer for the Northern Ireland pair who had their best performance of the year at the Sail for Gold regatta in Weymouth in June when they won Gold. 

Also competing at the regatta are female 49erFX campaigners Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey.

Published in Olympic

#olympicsailing – Irish Olympic duo Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern finished 26th overall yesterday at the 49er European championships in Denmark.

Thusgaard Olsen are Denmark's latest sailing sensations after they became the SAP 49er FX European champions on Sunday on the bay where they learned to sail as seven year olds, 13–years ago. Results here.

Both women's Irish 29er pairings Tiffany Brien and Saskia Tidey and Claudine Murphy and Andrea Brewster found the going tough in Aarhaus, finishing at the back of the silver fleet. Results here

It was a momentous day for the 49ers and Olympic sailing generally too with a fantastic example of the 'theatre style' racing close to the shore. Aarhus's weather gods delivered on cue with a sea breeze allowing the short course, 500 metres long by 200 metres wide, to be laid perpendicular to the long promenade where the crowd basked in glorious sunshine. For the spectators and for television it made what can seem a remote sport exciting and understandable. Sport Event Denmark, Sailing Aarhus and Sport Aarhus Events have yet to confirm whether are bidding for the 2018 ISAF world championships, but if they do, this will provide a powerful case study.

There was a dramatic backdrop too as the Aarhus has been simultaneously hosting the start of The Tall Ships Race. The compact city has happily handled the hundreds of thousands of people flooding into the harbour over the weekend.

The men's races went down to the wire. But after their capsize, New Zealand's Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, the Olympic silver medalists, showed champion calm and skill. They won the next race and with the points level with Britain's Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign going into the last race, they got a good start and were able to get ahead of the British and manage them for the whole race. The French pair of Julien d'Ortoli and Noe Delpech took bronze. It was the second New Zealand medal of the day after Alexandra Maloney and Molly Meech won a hard-fought bronze in the women's FX.

Results:

SAP men's 49er European Championships

1. Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, 89 points
2. Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign, 93
3. Julien d'Ortoli and Noe Delpech, 112

SAP women's 49er FX European Championships

1. Ida Marie Baad Nielsen and Marie Thusgaard Olsen, 87
2. Martine Soffiatti Grael and Kattena Larsen Kunze, 104
3. Alexandra Maloney and Molly Meech, 108

Published in Olympic

#49er – A credible top ten performance at Kiel week this week for Northern Ireland's 49er pairing Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern marks another auspicious step on the ladder for Rio 2016, given this is only the dinghy pairs second regatta since returning from London 2012.

This week's German result follows Sail for Gold victory in Weymouth a fortnight ago and positions the Ballyholme duo well for this month's 49er Europeans, the main target of their summer campaign. The pair finished seventh overall in a Kiel fleet of 51–boats, recovering from some mid-fleet performances earlier in the series. 

Belfast team mate James Espey did not fare as well in the mens Laser division finishing 60th out of 92 starters.

Tiffany Brien, also from Belfast lough, now teamed with Dubliner Saskia Tidey were 12th from 15 in the brand new 49er fx women's Olympic class. This pair are also heading for a class European championships.

Full results in each class of Irish interest is downloadable below

Published in Olympic
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