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Shining Thoughts in the Marble City

17th November 2012
Shining Thoughts in the Marble City

#icra – The Irish Cruiser Racing Association's (ICRA) annual conference today is in a place better known for its hurling prowess. But over the years Kilkenny has proven a popular venue for the meeting - ICRA has an understandable fondness for the Marble City, for it was here that Fintan Cairns, the late Jim Donegan, and other far-sighted sailing folk brought this most successful organisation into being ten years ago.

At the time, some old stick-in-the-muds (this columnist included) tended to the view that offshore racing organizations should be related to specific sea areas such as the Irish Sea or the North Channel. We were completely and utterly wrong. ICRA took off like a rocket, and has been flying ever since, with the canny Denis Kiely running the back office for the complex number crunching which is essential when you're coordinating racing for boats of many types and sizes.

The annual ICRA Nationals, a crazy new-fangled notion when it was introduced from the beginning as central to the organisation's purpose, has become such a prestigious happening that clubs compete to be selected to stage it. 2012's in Howth in May was a classic, with 115 starters enjoying the last of the Springtime's good weather to have some magnificent racing with a fleet size that other forms of sailing would die for.

Class Zero saw an overall points tie between Anthony O'Leary's Ker 39 Antix and Richard Fildes' Corby 37 Impetuous from South Wales, which the Cork boat won on the countback. Class 1 also went to Cork in the form of the J/109 Jelly Baby (Ian Nagle & Paul O'Malley), Class 2 went to the North Wales/Dublin Bay skipper Nigel Biggs with Checkmate XV, Class 3 went to Cork and George Kenefick's classic Quarter Tonner Tiger, and Class 4 went to Toy Yot from Malahide, an attractive Everitt 22 which had been taken over as a derelict in Malahide Boatyard last winter by a team of marine industry specialists around Malahide Marina headed by Stephen Mullaney. Though the only significant new item to go into the project was a suit of sails from the local Philip Watson loft, the input of much spare time elbow grease resulted in a successful campaign, a lesson for our times.

The ICRA Nationals 2013 will be staged in Tralee with Brian O'Sullivan in charge, and he will be outlining the developing programme at today's gathering. It's a case of shaping the event to suit current economic realities. Even a high flying group like ICRA can feel the effects of the recession as keenly as everyone else, and one of the disappointments of 2012 was having to acknowledge that the resources simply weren't available to mount a defence of the biennial international Commodore's Cup, which the Ireland Team organised by ICRA had won in convincing style in 2010. ICRA Commodore Barry Rose of Cork, who had been the pace-setting manager of the 2010 campaign, explored every possible option to put a campaign in place for 2012, but he made the right call when he declared it a non-runner, concentrating resources instead on serving the sport at home.

One particularly encouraging feature of the past season has been the emergence of strong University crews on the offshore scene. Back in June in the Round Ireland Race, Galway University were right in the hunt with their chartered Reflex 38, and they won their class and placed sixth overall in an international fleet. Buoyed by this success, they head into 2013 with an even more ambitious programme which will include the Fastnet.

At the end of October, the Student Yachting Worlds in France - a classic inshore-offshore event - saw a runaway overall win for Ireland, represented by UCD with Cathal Leigh-Doyle as Captain and Aidan McLaverty as skipper, a result which provides the bonus of Ireland being allocated two team places in the 2013 Worlds.

The UCD campaign was such a good model of its kind that the team will be giving a presentation at today's Kilkenny conference to outline the basics of their approach. And Ireland's own international offshore sailing superstar, Damian Foxall, will also be giving a presentation about being the First Mate aboard Franck Cammas' Groupama, overall winner of the Volvo World Race which concluded in style in Galway.

Barry Rose will be standing down as Commodore with the organisation in good heart, and ICRA being run in a style reminscent of the Government of China, we know already that he will be succeeded by Nobby Reilly of Howth, whose enthusiasm for campaigning his Mills 37 Crazy Horse wth co-owner Alan Chambers at locations on all coasts provides the leadership by example on which sailing organisations thrive.

And then the business will be concluded with the final stages of the voting for the ICRA Boat of the Year. We've a feeling here that it will be Jelly Baby (Ian Nagle and Paul O'Malley). This J/109 is already 2012's Boat of the Year at the Royal Cork, and even with the competition made nationwide, she still fits perfectly into the slot of top boat for these straitened times.


We learned last weekend that Irish politics is only in its infancy compared to the workings of the International Sailing Federation as manifested at its annual conference in Dun Laoghaire from November 1st to 11th.

Having 700 delegates certainly creates a steamy brew of intrigue. The big issue was whether it was to be kite-surfing or wind-surfing, or some mixture of both, for inclusion in the 2016 Olympics. Kite-surfing on its own had been voted in to replace windsurfing by the ISAF Council at its meeting in May by a majority of just two votes. But this caused so much grief that the ISAF Events Committee put through a motion last week for a sharing of the Rio de Janeiro slot by both kites and windsurfers.


 John Twomey brings an unmatched Paralympic participation record to his new role as President of the International Association for Disabled Sailing.


When this reached the Council last Saturday, it wasn't ratified, as they needed a majority of 75% to re-visit a previous decision, and that majority wasn't forthcoming. But the canny wind-surfers still had a secret weapon. The massive AGM with all delegates at the end of the conference can consider all decisions made by the Council, and rejecting them only needs a simple majority.

This particular bazooka was brought into play on Sunday, and the Council's Maytime decision was blown clean out of the water. Windsurfing is back on top. The kiters won't be in the frame at all in Rio. And windsurfers who had "gone over to the other side" by buying kiting equipment since May's decision are now doubly bruised – they've sent money down the drain, and staunch windsurfers regard them as turncoats.

But happily the conference produced a breath of fresh air with the news that John Twomey of Kinsale, Ireland's most dedicated paralympian who has done ten games in both athletics and sailing, has been elected to a four year term as President of the International Association for Disabled Sailing. No better man.


Seems like the launchings of new sailing and maritime books is getting to be like the Number 33 bus. You wait for ever (in the rain of course), and then two come along at once. Last Wednesday provided nautical bibliophiles with an insoluble dilemma. Pete Hogan's lovely new "Log of the Molly B" was being launched south of the Liffey in the Davenport Hotel at 1800 hrs by Conor Brady, former editor of The Irish Times. And north of the river - at precisely the same time in the Customs House - they'd two Government Ministers on hand to launch the hefty new book about the wrecks of Ireland as measured electronically by the new survey ship which is skippered by Sean Cullen.

The Log of the Molly B is proving to be a cult hit, plus it has the virtue of solving Christmas present problems at a stroke, so publishers Liffey Press found themselves in the happy position of running out of copies to sell. Yet people kept waving money at them and they soon had a paid-for list for postage next day.

It was an intriguing evening, with sea-minded alumni of the Cistercian College Roscrea present in strength. CCR is about as far from the sea as you can get in Ireland, but Pete Hogan went there, and so too did Conor Brady, hence the unlikely linkup between the editor of a national newspaper and the reclusive artist-sailor whose talents have proven ideal to producing a beautifully illustrated gem of writing. It seems that though there are Cistercian Monasteries throughout the world, the only one with a school attached is in Roscrea, which might explain how this unique book came to be created.

There's a chance of a replay of the wrecks book launch next Tuesday (November 20th) at 8.0 pm in Poolbeg Y & BC when the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association are hosting a talk by Sean Cullen about Captain Bligh, and as a sideline the wrecks book will be on sale.

After the mutiny on the Bounty and Bligh's extraordinary voyage to survival on the ship's boat, the Captain was sent to Dublin for a while to get him out of the limelight, and during his time here he was advising on the development of Dublin Port. So totally did this get Bligh out of the picture for a few years that a recently published biography of him makes no reference to it. But he was here for sure, and he made creative suggestions for the development of Dublin port which continue to benefit the city today.

As for the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association, they recently elected the irrepressible Tim Magennis as their President, nicely in time for the Golden Jubilee next year of the OGA. A highlight of the celebrations will be a massive assembly of gaffers and classics in Dublin Bay in June, and Tim will be the ideal man to lead it – he owns the 1894 gaffer Marguerite, designed by Herbert Boyd of Howth and built by Jack Wellington in Malahide, and back in the 1960s he sailed round the world in the Colin Archer ketch Sandefjord skippered by Pat Cullen, whose son Sean is next Tuesday's lecturer.


Hal Sisk has been at it again. The polymathic yachting historian must have barely paused for breath after masterminding the magisterial book about the Scottish designer G L Watson (published last February) before he got to thinking that the ISAF Conference in Dun Laoghaire would provide the perfect opportunity to remind global sailing's administrators that the basics of modern yacht racing management were laid down on Dublin Bay by the moving spirits in the Royal Alfred Yacht Club, which was founded in 1870.


Don't forget to scald the pot, and use only the best Darjeeling. One of the evocative photos of Dublin Bay sailing by Paget Haffield which are almost a distraction from Hal Sisk's learned discussion of Dun Laoghaire's key role in the creation of modern yacht racing in his new publication, Dublin Bay – The Cradle of Yacht Racing. These two classic sportsmen, complete with Meerschaum pipes, are aboard a becalmed Dublin Bay 25 at the height of the Edwardian era.

The trouble is that over the years, Hal has accumulated so much in the way of historical material that, even more than the rest of us, he needs an editor-in-chief to oversee his every creative move, otherwise we get swamped in the outpouring of information.

But the fact is, Dublin Bay did do the groundwork, but the newly formed Yacht Racing Association took up the Royal Alfred framework so totally that its origins in Dublin Bay were quickly forgotten everywhere else except in Dublin bay, and even then, only by a few. Then too, the Americans tend to think that the basics of the yacht racing rules were almost entirely formulated by Harold S Vanderbilt, and a quaint little club in Ireland would have little chance of successfully staking its claim in the origination stakes when set against the might of the Vanderbilts.

But the deadline of the imminent arrival of the ISAF express meant that Hal and his team just had to get a 50-page book together in jig time. "Dublin Bay-The Cradle of Yacht Racing" was published by Peggy Bawn Press at the end of October, and it's persuasive in its arguments. But when so much pure gold is there to be mined in historic photos, it's easy to be distracted. Hal has access to the glass plate collection of 300 sailing photos taken around Dublin Bay by one Paget Haffield between 1888 and 1914, and the book is dominated by a selection of them. The publishing team just couldn't resist giving a whole page to this image of two very recognisably Dublin sailing types clowning about with the preparation of tea in a complete and utter flat calm aboard a Dublin Bay 25 at the height of the Edwardian era. Do they look as though they care just who invented modern yacht racing?

Details on the book from


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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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