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After a fickle day three of the Volvo Youth National Sailing Championships, dinghy class leaders clung to the top of their respective scoresheets but only just.

Organisers were also breathing a sigh of relief after completing the minimum race requirements for the championships in three classes as tricky light southerly winds and fog on Dublin Bay threatened the 2018 schedule.

Following Thursday's heavy air start then Friday’s cancellation of racing due to near gale force winds, the third day offered completely different challenges.

Against the odds, race officials did well to complete a number of races on three separate Bay courses.

Although the race management teams planned an early start to the day, early morning fog was slow to clear but left a moderate breeze in its place. This gave way to near calm conditions by lunchtime followed by a return of sea fog with competitor boats gathered close to their committee boats before racing resumed in the mid-afternoon.

Three more classes joined the championships today in what turned out to be a six-hour day afloat, bringing the turnout to 196 boats and 213 competitors. 

The Irish Sailing event is being co-hosted by the National YC and Royal St. George YC.

Optimists postponed 2064Optimist dinghies line up for a start that is then postponed

In the Optimist trials event, Justin Lucas of the Royal Cork Yacht Club saw his lead pared back a little by national champion Rian Geraghty-McDonnell of the National Yacht Club in second place but still has a comfortable seven-point lead. 

Laser postponed 1959Overall leader Jamie McMahon (213000) among a fleet of 34 Laser Radials waiting for racing to resume at the Committee Boat in Scotsman's Bay

After two straight wins on Thursday in the Laser Radial class, Howth Yacht Club’s Jamie McMahon also retains the overall lead of his class but with unrelenting pressure from Peter Fagan of the Royal St. George Yacht Club just two points behind. 

420 Ferguson v McGovern 1992Overall 420 leaders Nicola Ferguson and Fiona Ferguson (56032) of the National Yacht Club neck and neck with fourth overall Grace O'Beirne and Kathy Kelly of the Royal St George Yacht Club in the beat to the finish of race five Photo:

Nicola Ferguson and Fiona Ferguson of the National Yacht Club and Gemma McDowell with Emma Gallagher of Malahide Yacht Club are on the same eight points of the 420 class proving their abilities across the wind range over the two days.

Meanwhile, of the three classes that joined the event today, Alana Coakley of the Royal St George Yacht Club leads the Laser 4.7 fleet, David Jones of the Royal Cork Yacht Club leads the Topper 5.3 class while Christian Houlihan of Blessington Sailing Club leads the Topper 4.2 class. 

Sunday’s final day is scheduled to again have an early start with Warning Signals on all courses planned for 1000 hrs and up to four races – weather permitting.

youth Nationals postpone

See overall results here

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With 190 sailors from 25 clubs nationwide, the first ever Northern Ireland–hosted Youth Pathway Nationals 2017 at Ballyholme last year had a debut which was little short of sensational. The momentum has been maintained into 2018 for a real talent-spotting championship, and this weekend we’re in the midst of a participation of 213 young sailors in 197 boats, and they represent 28 clubs which vie with each other to provide the best possible infrastructure, training and logistical support for their very active junior sections. W M Nixon reflects on the many implications of both the event and this year’s venue, together with the volunteers who make it possible.

420 1509Dublin Bay as it can be – Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher of Malahide revelling in the first day’s sunshine racing with their top-placed 420. Photo: O'Brien

They’d a beautifully sunlit early morning start on Thursday in Dublin Bay, with a rising south to southeast breeze as the first races started at noon. But by 2pm the forecast greyness was beginning to spread up over the sky from the south, and soon the sunshine was only a memory. A vivid one nevertheless, but only the Optimists, 420s and Laser Radials on the complete four day programme benefitted from this brief yet very welcome respite from the longest winter in living memory.

justin lucas2The Champion from Clon…..Justin Lucas of Clonakilty, Tralee Bay SC & Royal Cork, is ahead in the Optimist fleet

They made the best of it, with 14-year-old Justin Lucas of Tralee Bay and Royal Cork (the word is he lives in Clonakilty) continuing his stellar progress as the pace-setter of the 70-strong Optimist class, with three wins in three races. But the two hosting clubs were in there battling away, with Moss Simington (RStGYC) finishing the day second overall on an 8, 2 and 14, while the National YC’s Rian Geraghty-McDonnell and Nathan van Steenberge were third and fourth on 7,5,2 and 10,9,5 respectively.

justin lucas3Winning speech – Justin Lucas is already well accustomed to taking big prizes, and he can handle success with grace and style

The Laser Radials and 420s got in two races, and in a repeat of last year in the Lasers, it was a McMahon of Howth out in front. But in 2018 it is Ewan McMahon’s younger brother Jamie who is doing the business on behalf of one of Ireland’s “sailingest” families - sister Eve is a star as well. On Thursday, Jamie logged two wins while Peter Fagan had two seconds and Hugo Kennedy took a 4th and third.

Jamie McMahon4Jamie McMahon. The McMahons of Howth are like the No 33 bus – if you missed one winning a race, then another one will be along soon. Last year, Ewan McMahon dominated the Laser Radials in the Youth Pathway Championship. This year, it’s his brother Jamie. Photo:

The 420s were looking good initially for 2017 Irish Junior Champion Micheal O’Suillebhain of Cork – with regular crewmate Michael Carroll, he won the first race. But a capsize in the second race had him out of it altogether, and Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher of Malahide quickly stepped into the breach - they’d been second the first time out, they now confirmed the overall lead by winning, with Morgan Lyttle and Patrick Whyte second overall on 4,2 and Nicola & Fiona Ferguson third with two thirds.

mcdowell and gallagher5Final preparations for a good day afloat – Emma Gallagher and Gemma McDowell with their 420. Photo: Irish Sailing/Facebook

mcdowell and gallagher6The triumphant return – Gemma McDowell on helm and Emma Gallagher on trapeze blasting back into Dun Laoghaire Harbour after winning the first day

When the class numbers went up to five yesterday with the Toppers and Laser 4.7s due to start their three day programme, it was back to the “new normal” on the weather front, and the start of racing was postponed to 2.00pm which then became total cancellation. There’d been a foul night of wind and rain which made you wonder if the ISPCC might come sniffing around the place, for there’s many a neighbourhood and a society where they’d think that sending kids out in little boats in weather like that is a deliberately calculated form of cruelty.

But having been an Oppie dad back in the day (it was so long ago that everyone called them Oppies at the time - the contemporary PC version “Opty” still doesn’t trip off the tongue), I never ceased to be amazed by the kids’ determination to get in some racing no matter what the weather. As to their notions of the voyaging an Optimist might be capable of during lay days, that didn’t bear thinking about – they’d put food for a day on board, and were prepared to sail for the horizon if they could get away with it.

This particular Oppie dadship ended in an interesting way, when my sole duty was to deliver the youngest son to an Optimist event, and then bring him back when it was over. None of this hands-on Oppie parenting stuff in our family – it was indicated that I was to make myself scarce between start and finish. When you’re a flustered haulier like that, at the close of the event you just link up with the junior skipper, hitch up with the boat trailer, and head for home. Thus it was some time before I noticed that as often as not, I was bringing back a different boat. Our little baby boy had become a successful Oppy dealer. And he soon wanted to move onto bigger things, which he has continued to do successfully ever since.

As for not noticing which particular boat I was towing, let it be said that there’s a renowned Dun Laoghaire character who was road-trailing a Dragon home from a major event in Brittany, and he was many kilometres along the route before he realized he’d got the wrong boat. But that’s by the way. My own limited Oppy dad experience is only to show that these kids are tough and extremely competitive, and we should save at least as much sympathy for the huge numbers of weather-battered volunteers who are beavering away through the four day programme to keep this complex regatta moving towards the target, which at the very least is to get a valid result.

Con Murphy Ross killian DonnellyCon Murphy is the total sailor – longtime Round Ireland Record holder, and Race Officer par excellence. Here he is on the right with Irish Sailing's Ross Killian (centre) and Pat Donnelly addressing participants at the National Yacht Club on Friday

On the three course areas as shown on our leader photo, former NYC Commodore and longtime Round Ireland Record holder Con Murphy (he set the record in 1993) is in charge of the big girls and boys’ racing with the 420s and Laser Radials, and he’s aboard Johnny McClean-Roberts’ cruiser in the more exposed area northeast of the harbour. He’s well-placed in terms of committee boat comfort, as Johnny’s vessel is the well-appointed Jeanneau 54 DS Quite Correct, which some years ago carried out the textbook rescue in the Irish Sea of the crew of a sinking boat whose spade rudder had torn adrift leaving a large hole in its place, resulting an award-winning exercise by Quite Correct, master-minded by Johnny’s longterm shipmate Brian Mathews.

Eddie Totterdell of the National YC is on one of the Dublin Bay SC Race Officer catamarans looking after the Toppers and Laser 4.7s to the northwest of the harbour. His continuing services to sailing are the stuff of legend, so it was thought only right and proper that when the draw was taken at the Sailors of the Year Awards ceremony in the RDS in February, the winner of the prize for two VIP places at the finish of the Volvo Ocean Race at The Hague in June should go to Eddy Totterdell – no better man.

eddy totterdell8Another of Irish sailing’s great volunteers, Eddie Totterdell is the very popular winner of the VIP ticket to the finish of the Volvo Ocean Race in June

It’s interesting to note that a recent news item on the Topper Class here on featured a request that anyone interested in joining the Irish Topper Class Committee should please get in touch pronto, for although the Toppers fit a definite niche in the market very precisely, that niche is for only a very few years. Then the young skippers and their committee-serving parents move on to bigger boats, so keeping the committee up to strength is a recurring problem.

It’s not one which seems likely with the Optimists, which are racing to the west of the harbour. They’re far and away the largest class numerically with something like 70 boats already racing, and maybe eighty in all if conditions start to suit the newer youngest sailors.

The Race Officer in their relatively sheltered area is Lough Derg Yacht Club Commodore John Leech, best-known in sailing as a stalwart of the Shannon One Design class, and a member of one of the leading sailing families along the rivers and lakes.

John LeechLough Derg YC Commodore John Leech, who is Chief Executive of Irish Water Safety, is another volunteer giving sterling service as a Race Officer for the Youth PathwayNationals.

His brother Garrett recently became Commodore of Lough Ree Yacht Club, which must lead to a certain level of sibling rivalry, for although Lough Derg YC dates back to 1835, Lough Ree has its roots in 1770, which makes it the second-oldest club in Ireland, bested only by the Royal Cork YC itself.

This all means that 2020 is going to be quite a year for club anniversaries, and there are already three clubs on the podium – the National YC is going to be in the Bronze Medal position at 150 years old, Lough Ree is firmly in Silver at 250 years, and Royal Cork is undoubtedly Gold Medallist at 300 years old.

Discussions of such matters will have helped to pass the time as they waited for conditions to abate to allow racing to resume. Another surefire topic is the future direction of Dun Laoghaire Harbour, a matter exacerbated by the damage sustained in the recent storms. How will such repairs be paid for in the long run? Should it be seen as much as a National Heritage site as much as a harbour?

water wags10Dun Laoghaire Harbour’s exceptional role as a National Heritage site is emphasized by considering how this photo of the original 1887 Water Wags taken from the end of the East Pier in the 1890s….Photo courtesy Water Wag Class

water wags11…….is complemented by this contemporary photo of their successors which were introduced in 1900, as seen from seaward in the same location

Well, as one of the points made in all the debates about the Old Granite Pond is that for all its artificial origins, there’s something about Dun Laoghaire Harbour which makes it seem like a natural feature of Dublin Bay, why not treat it as just that, and look on repairs as being the treatment of coastal erosion, rather than ordinary harbour maintenance matters?

Meanwhile, the wayward low pressure area which was causing all the trouble was tracking just a little too slowly up the west coast to save yesterday’s hoped-for afternoon races. In such a situation, the prompt decision to call off any prospect of further racing before today (Saturday) was much the best option.

We go into the weekend with two days left of the programme knowing that the Optimists need only one more race to have a championship result, while the Laser Radials and the 420s need two further race results, but the Toppers and the Laser 4.7s will need three. However, with the racing scheduled to start at 10.30am, it should be well manageable. But for now, the young sailing people of Ireland are surely learning even more about the weird weather we have to live with, because as the localised high pressure area forecast for today materialises, we’ll be looking at a Dublin Bay transformed.

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Racing in day two of Irish Sailing's Volvo Youth National Championships at Dun Laoghaire has been postponed. The next update will be made at 2pm, according to Race Officer Con Murphy at the National Yacht Club.

UPDATE at 2pm: Racing abandoned for the day. First gun tomorrow at 10.30am.

Weather forecasts indicate strong southerly winds gusting to 40 mph on the three Dublin Bay race areas this afternoon.

Currently, there is low visibility on the Bay, winds are from the South East and gusting to 39 knots, according to the Dublin Bay weather buoy. 

200 sailors are contesting the dinghy championships that is hosted by the Royal St. George Yacht Club and National Yacht Clubs in Laser Radial, 420, Topper and Optimist classes.

Three races are scheduled for all five classes today. Racing continues until Sunday.

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There were some predictable names at the top of the three competing fleets after the opening day of the Irish Sailing Volvo Youth Pathway National Sailing Championships on Dublin Bay.

Jamie McMahon of Howth Yacht Club leads the Laser Radials, Malahide’s Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher lead the 420s and Tralee Bay's Justin Lucas leads the Optimists.

A further three classes are due to join the event on day two, bringing the turnout to 196 boats and 213 competitors but gale force winds may delay the schedule.

Laser dinghy Big seas 1581Big seas – there were pretty challenging conditions with good size waves and a really cold start to the Youth Natonals. Photo:

Laser 1663Solo run – In some great surfing conditions, Jamie McMahon leads Peter Fagan down the final leg of the second Radial race Photo:

Three straights wins saw Justin Lucas of Tralee Bay and Royal Cork Yacht Club take a commanding lead in the Optimist trials event where 69 boats are competing. His nearest challengers were Moss Simington of the Royal St. George YC tied with Rian Geraghty-McDonnell on 14 points apiece, some eleven points behind the leader.

Laser radials downwind 1705Full concentration – tight racing downwind in the Laser Radials Photo:

"Three straights wins saw Justin Lucas of Tralee Bay take a commanding lead in the Optimist trials event"

In the Laser Radial event sailed in the centre of the bay, Howth Yacht Club's Jamie McMahon also had a good start to his series with two wins but with pressure from Peter Fagan from the Royal St. George YC with two seconds. McMahon had been taking a break from Sailing to focus on Junior Cup Rugby since Christmas and this event marks his return to competition - and form.

420 1766Hangin' in – Malahide’s Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher lead the 420s Photo:

Amongst the 420 double-handers, also sailing on the centre-course, Malahide’s Gemma McDowell and Emma Gallagher had a consistent opening day with a second and first place in their 16-strong class. 

420 spinnaker 1416Girl power – White–sailing Nicola and Fiona Ferguson to windward of second overall Morgan Lyttle and Patrick Whyte under spinnaker in the 420 class Photo:

420 gybe 1471Ready to gybe – 420 pair Ben Graf and Alexander Farrell catch a wave Photo:

The midday start for both courses saw brilliant sunshine but a cold south-easterly breeze that gradually built to over 20 knots with accompanying sea state.

The forecast for day two of near gale conditions may mean waiting until Saturday for the next race pending a decision by race management teams early on Friday.

dinghy towed RIB 1617Not plain sailing – there were plenty of retirals across the three fleets after a blustery day one. Photo:

Full results are here

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The Volvo Irish Sailing Youth Pathway National Championships start tomorrow at the Royal St. George Yacht Club and National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire Harbour on Dublin Bay. As previously reported by, this is Ireland’s biggest youth sailing regatta with nearly 200 young sailors from around Ireland and over 28 clubs represented.

The regatta starts tomorrow (5-8 April) with races open to all young sailors who sail in the five Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Classes (Laser Radial, Laser 4.7, 420, Topper and Optimist).  

There’ll be three race courses, five classes, three evening talks, and 32 counties represented.

2018 Pick of the Favourites

420 ballyholme2420 racing at Ballyholme in last year's youth championships

420 class

Girls: Gemma McDowell & Emma Gallagher, Malahide Yacht Club

Boys: Micheal O’Suilleabhain and Michael Caroll, Royal Cork Yacht Club

A total of 11 races are scheduled. 4 races required to be completed to constitute a championship.

Laser Radial

Girls: Claire Gorman, National YC

Boys: Peter Fagan, Tom Higgins and Jamie McMahon

A total of 11 races are scheduled. 4 races required to be completed to constitute a championship.

Laser 4.7

Munster Champion from last weekend in Baltimore Atlee Kohl from Royal Cork YC. Following last weekend’s form Finn Walker, RSGYC and Alana Coakley, RSGYC/RVYC will also be in contention in a tough fleet that boast 27 entries.  A total of 8 races are scheduled. 3 races required to be completed to constitute a championship.


Hugh O’Connor of the National YC with home advantage but will face stiff competition from both Erin McIlwaine, Newcastle YC, and David Jones, Royal Cork YC.

In the Topper 4.2 the title is wide open with Adam Irvin of the NYC, Zoe Whitford of the East Antrim Boat club and Christian Houlihan of Blessington Sailing club amongst the contenders.

A total of 8 races are scheduled. 3 races required to be completed to constitute a championship.


Hot competition makes it too close to call in the Optimist class but it is hard to ignore last weekend's performance by Justin Lucas in the Netherlands. A total of 13 races are scheduled in the Optimist trials. Four races required to be completed to constitute a championship.

Talent spotting

This is Ireland’s largest Youth regatta and Irish Sailing’s primary talent spotting event of the year for the Academy and Junior classes. Importantly, it’s also one of the few chances in the year when family and friends who are sail in different classes can all sail together at one regatta venue, competing on different courses but on the same waters, giving a brilliant opportunity for shared experiences, learning and fun.

Evening talks open to all

The evening talks from Irish Sailing Performance Director James O’Callaghan and coach Ross Killian along with sports psychologist Dr Kate Kirby, Jessie Barr and nutritionist Ronan Doherty are open to all the sailors and their parents. 

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Today is the last chance for early bird registration for the Volvo Irish Sailing Youth Pathway National Championships that take place from the 5th – 8th April 2018 in Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin.

It's Ireland’s largest Youth regatta and Irish Sailing’s primary talent spotting event of the year for the Academy and Junior sailing classes.

Enter before midnight tonight to avail of the early bird fee. 

Register please via the Royal St George Yacht Club and National Yacht Club websites where you’ll find the full Notice of Race and entry forms or click here.

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There’ll be three race courses, five classes, three evening talks, and 32 counties represented at next month's Volvo Irish Sailing Youth Pathway National Championships taking place 5th – 8th April 2018 in Dun Laoghaire, jointly hosted by the Royal St George Yacht Club and the National Yacht Club.

As well as great racing on the water, and good fun at the club ashore. The evening talks as well as the races are open to all young sailors who sail in the five Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Classes (Laser Radial, Laser 4.7, 420, Topper and Optimist). This is Ireland’s largest Youth regatta and Irish Sailing’s primary talent spotting event of the year for the Academy and Junior classes.

Importantly it’s also one of the few chances in the year when family and friends who are sail in different classes can all sail together at one regatta venue, competing on different courses but on the same waters, giving a brilliant opportunity for shared experiences, learning and fun.

Up to six places on the Irish Sailing Laser 4.7 Squad: Up to six sailors will be chosen at the Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Nationals to join the Irish Sailing Laser 4.7 Squad. The squad will provide training to help young sailors transition in the Laser 4.7 class. It will also aim to prepare and support the squad for the Laser 4.7 World Championship to be held in Gdynia, Poland in July. The squad coach and programme will be announced following the event. Entry to the Laser 4.7 Worlds is independent of Irish Sailing squad selection through the International Laser Class Association.

The four days of racing in Dublin Bay will decide the six places on the 420 European team who will travel to Sisimbra, Portugal in July to compete in the 420 Junior (U18) European Championships. 

Irish Sailing Laser Radial & 420 Academy: The Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Nationals is an indicator event (amongst other factors including domestic and international events) for the Irish Sailing Youth Academy. The Academy undergoes a review biannually following the Youth Pathway Nationals and in the autumn each year.

IODAI Irish Optimist Trials: The Optimist trials fleet will take to the water to compete for coveted team spots at the 2018 international regattas. Places for the World Championships in Cyprus, the European Championships in the Netherlands, and the international development team events in both Poland and France are all up for grabs.

Topper class: The Topper World Championships take place in China this year with a strong Irish team travelling to the regatta this year. The Pathway Nationals will provide a good indicator of form as the sailors test themselves against the best in the country as they head into the spring period of their season.

A lineup of evening speakers – open to all: At 5.30pm each evening there will be a talk and Q&A session at the nominated club with speakers who have a deep knowledge of racing. The talks are open to all sailors and parents.

• Thursday 5th – Saturday 7th April, Ross Killian & Sean Evans. Each evening Ross and Sean, the Irish Sailing Performance Coaches will give video analysis and coaching tips from the day’s racing
• Friday 6th April, James O’Callaghan Irish Sailing High Performance Director will talk through the Olympic and Performance Pathway
• Saturday 7th April, Jessie Barr, Sport psychologist currently working at the Sport Ireland Institute. Jessie is a four-time 400m relay Olympian. She has worked with a number of the Laser and 420 Academy sailors.

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It’s highly likely that a trial Olympic offshore racing event will be run in tandem with the 2020 Sailing Olympiad in Tokyo in 2020, and one proposal which seems to have traction is that a boat similar to the Figaro will be used, and raced two-handed by a mixed male-female crew writes W M Nixon.

Whatever shape the future Olympic offshore format takes, such a development is bound to move parts of the current world offshore racing scene towards a more formalized training structure for young sailors. And for offshore racing high-flying hopefuls of limited resources, it may ultimately offer the seemingly attractive prospect of funding becoming available though official sources.

Yet equally it will require commitment and a defined career path which could be a whole world away from the current varied scene in Ireland where young people – some of them surprisingly young – find a genuine enthusiasm for offshore racing happily fulfilled by crewing aboard a sailing school or family boat, or racing with skippers who know that a dedicated and talented young offshore sailor, recruited through the always busy sailing grapevine, can be a real asset, often with true skipper potential.

But how far does such talent want to go in pursuing offshore sport? When 20-year-old Erwan le Draoulec won the 2017 Minitransat by a significant margin last November, while his win wasn’t unexpected (even if it gave further proof that you don’t have to be through your mid-20s to have super-human stamina), his reaction was something of a surprise. He’d sailed the very wet little boat to the absolute limit, he’d done the job very well indeed, yet he’d no hesitation afterwards in saying that it was a very stressful and definitely not enjoyable way to cross the Atlantic, and that in the future some time, he would hope to make the crossing in a more thoughtful style which fully appreciated the very special qualities of the great ocean.

erwan le draoulec2Youngest-ever winner. 20-year-old Erwan le Draoulec at the finish of the Mini Transat, November 2017

Such an outcome, reflecting one result of the uniquely French approach to dedicated offshore programmes with a high-powered training structure though classes such as the Mini-Transat and the Figaro, tell us why Irish solo sailors such as Tom Dolan from Meath, and Joan Mulloy from Mayo, have concluded that the only way to advance their careers is to commit to the French system, and both now sail in the Figaro network through which Damian Foxall and David Kenefick also progressed.

But there’s an all-or-nothing element to that dedicated Gallic approach which inevitably involves living in France, and is at variance with the underlying Corinthian ethos in Irish sailing, with its wholesome friendly atmosphere, and the fact that we enjoy sailing with family and friends, and being based here.

It can be argued, of course, that if we’re going to produce sailors in any discipline who are going to achieve top level international success to Olympic level, then we have to produce athletes who are as tough-minded and self-reliant as they are talented and physically able, and have to accept that they should be prepared to go anywhere and everywhere to pursue their goals.

But not everyone necessarily aims that high, and it would be a very unhealthy state of affairs if they did. Certainly they wish to do well in their chosen branch of the sport, but it’s at a civilized level, and for these junior offshore racing aspirants, Ireland is a happy hunting ground.

Yet by the very nature of the offshore sport, you cannot have children’s and youth boats which would be the offshore equivalent of the Optimist or the International 420 - anyone who thinks the Mini Transats are kids’ boats clearly has never sailed one.

So in a variety of ways, active berths have to be found for younger people on grown-up boats, and some of these younger people are very young indeed. One of the stars of 2017 may have been 17-year-old Lorcan Tighe of Dun Laoghaire, who played a key role in the Irish National Sailing School’s class win with the J/109 Jedi in the Rolex Fastnet Race, for which he was made Sailor of the Month for September 2017. But he was already building on past experience – at the age of 16, he’d been bowman on Peter Hall’s Beneteau 34.7 Adelie in the Volvo Round Ireland 2016 from Wicklow.

adelie wicklow3Noel Butler (on helm) and Lorcan Tighe (then aged 16) on Peter Hall’s First 34.7 Adelie. Photo: David O'Brien/

lorcan and ronan4Further recognition. Lorcan Tighe with National YC Commodore Ronan Beirne and the Commodore’s Commendation Award for his 2017 Fastnet Race performance

And as a result of highlighting his achievement, we were quickly informed that several younger sailors had done the round Ireland, with a name quickly mentioned being that of Susan Shanahan of the National YC who was actively offshore racing as crew for her father Liam – stalwart of ISORA, the Round Ireland and the Dingle race - from the age of 12, for in these races there’s no lower age limit, although full Parental or Guardian permission is of course required for those under 18.

At the other side of the country, the legendary Dillons – father and son Derek and Conor from Foynes – were and are a formidable force offshore in double-handed racing with their Dehler 34 The Big Deal, and Conor was making an impact at the age of 14, while another Shannon Estuary sailing family, the McGibneys of Tarbert – were introducing youth sailors to the offshore game from an early age.

Derek conor dillon5Shannon talent. Derek and Conor Dillon from Foynes provide a notable example of different generations racing offshore together.

In fact, the extraordinary range of family crews bringing “cradle sailors” along to take part in offshore races from a very young age put us into new territory. For at what age does a child aboard an offshore racer start graduating into an active crew member? It’s when you try to put a figure on it that you realise that mere chronological age is a very crude measure. Every young sailor is different, and someone who is already a natural at 14 can be a much more useful crew than an able-bodied but less experienced 20-year-old.

It’s probably in Cork that they know more about when cradle sailors develop into real offshore crew members and skipper material, with family sailing and racing being so much part of the fabric of life that it’s seen as something so natural that it’s scarcely worth any special comment. But for sailors from elsewhere, it really is impressive when you see a mighty sailing clan like the O’Learys of two or more generations putting in a campaign where seniority is no matter of natural respect on board – it’s how much of a useful input you make into the boat’s successful functioning that counts.

One noted skipper who brings a special dedication and insight to family involvement in offshore racing is Liam Coyne of Dun Laoghaire, who with Brian Flahive won the two-handed division and several classes in the Round Britain & Ireland Race of 2014 in the First 36.7 Lula Belle.

lulabelle rbi6Rough going. Lula Belle at the start of the Round Britain and Ireland Race 2014. Photo RORC/Rick Tomlinson

lulabelle isora7Gentler going. Katie Coyne aged 10 aboard Lula Belle during an ISORA Pwllheli-Dun Laoghaire Race. Photo: Liam Coyne

That was one mega-rugged 1,800 mile event for the two men. Yet in home waters, Liam’s approach is strongly family-oriented, and over the years he has used the ISORA programme to introduce his three kids – Billy now 13, Katie who is 11, and Isabel 8 – to offshore sailing, firstly through taking them along on delivery trips when very young indeed, and then in actual races.

Thus young Billy won the Douglas Award aged 11 for being the youngest competitor in the ISORA trio of races focused on the Isle of Man, and then last year at 12 he was the youngest competitor in the decidedly tough Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race, and saw it through to the finish.

lula belle fastnet8Shipmates. Billy and Liam Coyne put the Fastnet astern during the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race 2017

Being at mid-fleet, by the time they reached the Fastnet the weather was easing, and that gave them a sunlit father, son and Fastnet photo to cherish. But the best was yet to come, as the weather now changed completely for the better. For a ten-day return cruise to Dun Laoghaire from Dingle, the racing crew took off home overland, and Liam and Billy were joined on board by Katie and Isobel for the four of them to have a sunlit port-hopping idyll back home along an Irish coast looking it best.

Another seasoned and thoughtful observer of the way young people move up through Ireland’s offshore racing structures is Noel Butler. Originally a man of the west, his sports were surfing, rock-climbing and fishing, but there was so little surf around in the good summer of 1995 that he returned to sailing which he’d briefly tried a few times before at the Outdoor Centre at Killaloe on Lough Derg.

This time he was hooked, and in classic Butler style he went at it 100%, so much so that when the two-man Laser 2 was all the rage around the turn of the Millennium, he took it up with such dedication that he won the Laser 2 Worlds in 2003, making him Ireland’s Sailor of the Year 2003.

yellow brick9The ubiquitous Yellowbrick Tracker – the mirco-chip used in it was designed in Dublin by the company where top helmsman Noel Butler works.

That in turn gave him such a good reputation as a helmsman that he is never lacking in offers of berths at the driving end of all sorts of boats, and offshore racing has become his passion. He brings an analytical mind to it - after all, he works with the company in Dublin which designed the micro-chips which are at the heart of the Yellowbrick trackers – and his comments on racing offshore with younger people who have proven themselves in dinghies, but find much great fulfillment offshore on open water, are illuminating:

“Having watched them take the boat by the scruff of the neck and “send it” in big breeze and big seas off Donegal, I for one appreciate the skills they are developing. I didn’t come up through the official “junior sailing world” myself, and am starting to experience it now with my own two kids (aged 7 and 9) sailing Optimists in the programme at the National YC. That’s ultimately aimed towards inshore racing, moving up in boat size. But with that for my family, and with my own experience of seeing more senior juniors such as Lorcan Tighe, Alexander Rumball, Jemima Owens and Oisin Cullen move into the keelboat and offshore game, I see the pluses and minuses of the varied experience of different types of sailing.”

Adelie skellig10The ocean experience – Noel Butler at the helm of Adelie with Skellig Michael astern during the Volvo Round Ireland Race 2016

This “varied experience” is regularly available in Ireland thanks to our tradition of family sailing, while organisations such as WIORA, SCORA and ICRA provide direction for young people looking to test the keelboat experience. But for full introduction to the genuine offshore scene, the Irish National Sailing School and Irish Offshore Sailing in Dun Laoghaire make a formidable contribution, while ISORA is in a league of its own.

kenneth rumball10aKenneth Rumball of the Irish National Sailing School in Dun Laoghaire skippered the J/109 Jedi to the class win and victory in the Roger Justice Trophy in the Rolex Fastnet Race 2017. Many Irish offshore racing boats now have INSS “graduates” in their crews

The Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association is guided by Peter Ryan of Dun Laoghaire with such patient skill and success that it could be a template of how to do such things. His own modest approach to it is surely part of it all. Far from claiming to be an offshore racer from boyhood, he quips: “I was an old man of 20-22 when Liam Shanahan Senr dragged me out of the snooker room in the National YC to go offshore racing on his DB2s Lightning – Liam was his own unique and very effective press gang. I’ve been well and truly hooked on offshore racing ever since, and it’s a great encouragement to me that so many young people – some of them very young – are getting a taste for racing offshore thanks to ISORA”.

peter ryan11Peter Ryan of ISORA was “press-ganged into offshore racing by Liam Shanahan Senr”.

So there is a sort of informal junior training programme within contemporary offshore racing. It’s just not highly visible because there’s no such thing as a junior offshore racing boat. But doubtless as the years go on, the “programme” will become more developed, as it already is with the sailing schools.

That said, the present setup has considerable charm. It’s intensely personal, it’s friendship and family-based. But if offshore racing is brought within the Olympic circus, then a high profile part of it will acquire an entirely different status. It will become official. It will become easy for governments to recognise its existence. It will become inevitable that, for some sections of the sport, a strict training and qualification and grading system will come into being, making it ultimately a section of sailing developing for a new elite.

Irish offshore sailors will view that with mixed feelings. For there really is something special about the way the system – such as it is nowadays – works quietly and so well in its unobtrusively effective way.

Published in W M Nixon
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After last year's successful Belfast Lough inaugural staging of the Irish Sailing Youth Pathway National Championships, the regatta stays on the east coast in 2018 with the Irish Sailing announcement today that the event will take place from 5th–8th of April in Dun Laoghaire, jointly hosted by the Royal St George Yacht Club and the National Yacht Club

As in previous years the IODAI Optimist Trials will be incorporated into the regatta making it an event catering for all the Pathway classes with competition for the Laser Radial, 420, Laser 4.7, Optimist and Topper.

Dun Laoghaire has not hosted the Youth Pathway Nationals since 2012 so it will be great to see Ireland’s best youth and junior sailors challenging for the top spots out on Dublin Bay again in 2018.

Further details and the notice of race will be posted shortly.

Published in Youth Sailing
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Irish youth Laser Radial sailors Conor Quinn and Sally Bell are 24th and 26th respectively with one race left to sail at the 2017 Youth Sailing World Championships in Sanya, China tomorrow. 

Quinn, from Rush Sailing Club, made the top ten of his 46-boat fleet in race six when he finished seventh in that race. Bell, from Belfast Lough, also scored high in her race six taking a second place as her best individual result in the regatta so far. 

The Irish boys 420 team of Geoff Power and James McCann are 21st in their fleet, with a top individual result of eighth scored in race seven. Full results are here

Italy's Margherita Porro and Sofia Leoni claimed the first title at the Championships sealing gold in the Girl's 29er with two races to spare.
The Italians carried a 26-point advantage into Thursday's action and knew that it was possible for them to win gold. Sailing in another variable 6-12 knot easterly breeze, that all the 374 sailors from 60 nations had to contend with, the Italians picked up a seventh and third.
This was enough to give them an unassailable lead. The pressure was off in the final race and as they sailed through in tenth, the celebrations commenced. "We still can't believe that we have won,” expressed Porro. "We feel incredible. It has been a fantastic week, in particular the first day because we gained three first places in all three races.
"We knew we won it after the second race today, this week and event has been so important for us.”
A single race will be held on Friday 15 December and there will be a fight for the final podium position with eight Girl's 29er teams in the hunt for silver and bronze.
The quest for gold in the Boy's 29er will go down to the final day and any one of three teams could win.
Théo Revil and Gautier Guevel (FRA) moved into first overall, dislodging overnight leaders Rok Verderber and Klemen Semelbauer (SLO), following a 2-2-10.
Norway's Mathias Berthet and Alexander Franks-Penty were the stand out team on the water recording a 4-5-1 scoreline and they also overtook the Slovenians who slipped to third after a fifth, sixth and discarded 24th.
The French lead on 62 points, followed by the Norwegians and Slovenians on 63 and 69 points.
There have been plenty of ups and downs in the Nacra 15 competition and after three races on Thursday, the Dalton siblings, Shannon and Jayden, have moved into the overall lead following a 2-2-5.
"We had a pretty good day,” said Shannon. "It was consistent and we gained some good scores. It was quite close racing, lots of different people at the top. The conditions were shifty and tough and it was good racing.”
The Australians are on 49-points, three points clear of Switzerland's Max Wallenberg and Amanda Bjork-Anastassov and seven points ahead of Belgium's Lucas Claeyssens and Anne Vandenberghe. Friday's final race will decide the podium places.
It's tight at the top in the Boy's and Girl's RS:X after three races with continuous swings in momentum.
Italy's Giorgia Speciale, Great Britain's Emma Wilson and China's Ting Yu have all guaranteed themselves a medal in the Girl's RS:X.
The trio occupied the top three spots in all the day's races with each competitor grabbing a race win. Speciale and Wilson were locked on 16 points overnight but the Italians 3-2-1 scoreline was one place better than Wilson's 1-3-3 which gives her a one point lead.
China's Yu has always been in contention for gold but did her chances the world of good after a 2-1-2. She is four points off the lead.
Israel's Yoav Cohen put three points between himself and China's Hao Chen after two race wins and a fourth. Chen finished in third in the two races Cohen won, to fall behind but a win in the last race of the day kept him in contention and he is three points off the Israeli.
Sil Hoekstra (NED) and Fernando Gonzalez de la Madrid Trueba (ESP) will fight it out for the final podium position as Cohen and Chen have guaranteed themselves a medal.
Twin sisters Carmen and Emma Cowles (USA) continued their fine form in the Girl's 420, picking up another pair of seconds.
They are 12 points clear of Violette Dorange and Camille Orion (FRA), who finished third and first in both races on Thursday. The Americans have a disqualification, which they currently discard, hanging over their heads so they will have to tread carefully on the final day to ensure there are no slip ups. However, they will feel confident as the French also have a discarded disqualification.
Arianna Passamonti and Giulia Fava (ITA) and Linoy Korn and Yael Steigman (ISR), who are separated by three points, will fight for the final podium spot on Friday.
The lead in the Boy's 420 continues to change hands but Thomas Rice and Trevor Bornarth will head into the final day in pole position.
Rice and Bornarth took a second and discard their tenth, which gives them a single point lead over Australia's Otto Henry and Rome Featherstone, who went 1-11. Israel's Ido Bilik and Noam Homri are four points off the leaders.
Charlotte Rose (USA) and Dolores Moreira Fraschini (URU) both had mixed days. Rose finished 25th in the first race of the day, which she discards, and followed up with a bullet. Fraschini came through in seventh first of all but then slipped to 15th, a score she discards, in the next.
Rose grabbed the lead and is two points ahead of the Uruguayan. Moreira Fraschini has the better discard so may look to cover Rose in the final race. No matter what happens, the pair will fly out of China with a Youth Worlds medal.
Four points split Luciana Cardozo (ARG), Daisy Collingridge (GBR) and Annabelle Rennie-Younger (NZL) who are all fighting for the final podium spot.
In the Boy's Laser Radial, Daniil Krutskikh (RUS) guaranteed himself a medal and has given himself every chance of that medal being gold after a race win and a 16th, which he discards.
Krutskikh is eight points clear of early leader Guido Gallinaro (ITA) and nine ahead of Maor Ben Hrosh (ISR).
Hrosh leaped up into bronze medal position after a fifth and a second and after racing commented, "It was a great day for me, my start was good and I also had a good second race, in the second upwind. It's a very nice regatta. I think the conditions are great and the environment around me is good.”
Racing resumes at 11:00 local time with a single race for every fleet.
Nations will also be battling for good positions in their respective fleets as they aim to boost their points total in the fight for the Nations' Trophy.

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