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Champions’ Cup at Sutton Will Continue 75-Year Golden Thread Of Helmsman’s Championship

17th September 2022
GP14s racing at Sutton DC, the class and venue for the new-look Champions’ Cup on October 8th & 9th
GP14s racing at Sutton DC, the class and venue for the new-look Champions’ Cup on October 8th & 9th

The Helmsman’s Championship? Crazy name. Surely it should at least have been The Helmsmen’s Championship? Yet in its quirkiness, it achieved brand recognition to die for. Everyone knew what it meant, so much so it could even be shortened to “The Helmsman’s”. And for decades it has provided a lengthening list of winning names which now, after 75 years, resonate down the ages with an accessibility that brings the story of sailing in Ireland to life in a specially personal way.

But in a world of increasingly equal opportunities, the uniquely successful title had drawn everyone further into a brand cul de sac. “Helmsman’s Championship” even seemed misogynistic. Yet, although in more recent times there have been attempts to give it new names, most of them failed to ring the popular bell when set against the original’s clarity, and much of the sailing community continued to think of it “The Helmsman’s” because of its simple memorability and very human history, but now it is re-launched as the Champions’ Cup.

Douglas Heard, the first President of the 1946-founded Irish Dinghy Racing Association and an inspiring leader and servant of sailing in Ireland, presented a large silver salver to be raced for by all the emerging class champions on the final day of the newly-introduced Dinghy Week in 1947. But despite the impressive size of the classic Irish Silver trophy – some experts would tell us it’s actually a tray – there was initially a fairly light-hearted approach to the whole novel idea of what seems to have been known as The Helmsman’s Championship from the start, with people skilled in different boat types being strait-jacketed into what was, for many, instant competition in a strange class at the top level.

 Douglas Heard, First President of the Irish Dinghy Racing Association, with yacht and boat designer Uffa Fox at the Royal St George YC in Dun Laoghaire in 1950, when the Fox-designed Flying 30 Huff of Arklow was under construction with Jack Tyrell in Arklow Douglas Heard, First President of the Irish Dinghy Racing Association, with yacht and boat designer Uffa Fox at the Royal St George YC in Dun Laoghaire in 1950, when the Fox-designed Flying 30 Huff of Arklow was under construction with Jack Tyrell in Arklow 

LIGHT-HEARTED EARLY APPROACH

This light-hearted early approach was just as well for, first time out - racing in the rapidly-expanding new IDRA 14 Class - the winner was Douglas Heard himself. Although he was obliged to race other IDRA 14s, he’d earlier in the week clearly won the IDRA 14 class racing his own Jem Kearney-built Error (No 1), which happily is still with us, now owned by Jim Lambkin of Sutton DC.

Thus at the very first staging, the problem of what kind of boat it should be staged in had been indicated as an annual challenge if the idea was to be tried again. That it should be was in little doubt. But the image of the Helmsman’s Championship as being “harmless fun” quickly evaporated. Even in the late 1940s, the number of classes racing in Ireland was enough to produce an overpowering load of results statistics for any easy press coverage of the sport. Thus the straightforward and concise results of the new title made for a welcome change. This new Helmsman’s Championship had become a very desirable and straightforward title to achieve, so more serious attention was being paid in 1948, when the winner was John Weaving of Sutton Dinghy Club, who’d cut his sailing teeth in the International 12ft class at his little creekside home club, and then went on to IDRA 14 racing.

A lifetime of service and achievement for sailing and boating in Ireland – Douglas Heard relaxing on a Shannon Cruise in 1977. In 1954, he was a founder member of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland. Photo: W M NixonA lifetime of service and achievement for sailing and boating in Ireland – Douglas Heard relaxing on a Shannon Cruise in 1977. In 1954, he was a founder member of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland. Photo: W M Nixon

With his win, the mythology of the Helmsman’s Championship began to grow, as it created a list of winners who seemed to encompass the entire human condition. For although Douglas Heard was a pillar of society who ran shipping lines and invariably headed the significant organisations in business and recreation with which he was involved, John Weaving was the seemingly sedate manager of the Bank of Ireland branch in Sutton Cross who suddenly threw up his secure job and acquired a far-from-new service barge on the Shannon, aboard which he lived – always with two dogs for company - and worked out his time at various small but much-needed waterfront engineering projects along the length of the great river and its lakes, in the days long before Waterways Ireland existed.

Then in 1949 the winner was Richard Uren, a leading figure in West Kirby SC on the Wirral towards Liverpool where – like Dun Laoghaire – they were big into Fireflies which regularly guested in Ireland. Consequently, designer Uffa Fox was a popular speaker at WKSC’s boisterous annual dinner, and to say that the creator of the Firefly and many other innovative boats made hay with the fact that their Commodore carried a multiple-entendre name is something of an understatement.

The salver/tray returned to Ireland in 1950, when Ted Crosbie of Cork was the winner. At 92, he is still happily with us, and was at the 505 Worlds in Crohsshaven during this past summer. For although he is now best known for his recent long years of success in cruiser-racing, after being a leading IDRA 14 racer at the time he won the Helmsman’s in 1950, he later joined the incredible travelling circus which was the International 505 Class in Ireland in its glory days in the late 1950s and through the ’60s. 

Ted Crosbie of the Royal Cork YC, now 92, is the most senior holder of the Helmsman’s Championship title, having won it in 1950. Photo: Robert BatemanTed Crosbie of the Royal Cork YC, now 92, is the most senior holder of the Helmsman’s Championship title, having won it in 1950. Photo: Robert Bateman

This list of past winners – and the Juniors, whose championship (in a week’s time) is now an annual event in the versatile setup at Schull, having been first raced in 1972 – has people who will be familiar to many. Yet it provides an enhanced service the further back we go, with names which would now be otherwise lost in the mists of time.

Who, for instance – apart from a small group of senior inland waterways enthusiasts – will know who John Weaving was? Or indeed twice-winner Richard Uren of West Kirby, come to that? Yet thanks to the Helmsman’s Championship we recall that once upon a time there was a Bank Manager at Sutton Cross who looked out of his window and dreamed of the peace and potential of the mighty Shannon, and he upped sticks and headed west in a way we’d more readily recognise in 2022 than they did in 1950.

IRISH SENIOR & JUNIOR CHAMPIONS, 1947-2021

Year

Senior Winner

Junior Winner

Junior First Girl

2021

Ger Owens

Rocco Wright

---

2020

no event

no event

---

2019

Michael O'Connor

Chris Bateman

no longer presented

2018

Peter Kennedy

Atlee Kohl

Alana Coakley

2017

Fionn Lyden

Micheal O’Suilleabhain

Leah Rickard

2016

Alex Barry

Johnny Durcan

Kate Lyttle

2015 

Anthony O'Leary 

Peter McCann 

Clare Gorman

2014

Anthony O'Leary

Harry Durcan

Gemma McDowell

2013

Ben Duncan

Séafra Guilfoyle

Megan Parker

2012

Peter O'Leary

Fionn Lyden

Aisling Keller

2011

George Kenefick

   

2010

Nicholas O'Leary

Philip Doran

Sophie Murphy

2009

Nicholas O'Leary

Matthew O'Dowd

Diana Kissane

2008

Nicholas O'Leary

Philip Doran

Tiffany Brien

2007

Stefan Hyde

Chris Penney

Annalise Murphy

2006

Peter O'Leary

George Kenefick

Rachel Guy

2005

David Crosbie

Fionn Jenkinson

Lisa Tate

2004

Tom Fitzpatrick

Katie Tingle

 

2003

Neil Hegarty

Erica Tate & Lorraine Stallard

 

2002

Conor Walsh

Robert Collins & Kenny Keogh

 

2001

Feargal Kinsella

Peter Bayly & Niall Cowman

 

2000

Gerald Owens

Peter O'Leary

 

1999

Mark Mansfield

Nicholas O'Leary

 

1998

Tom Fitzpatrick

Gerald Owens

 

1997

Tom Fitzpatrick

Neil Spain

 

1996

Laura Dillon

Gerald Owens

 

1995

Ruan O'Tiarnaigh

Laura Dillon

 

1994

Tom Fitzpatrick

Evan Dolan

 

1993

Sean Craig

Evan Dolan

 

1992

John Ross Murphy

Tom Fitzpatrick

 

1991

Mark Lyttle

Tom Fitzpatrick

 

1990

Mark Mansfield

Robert Eason

 

1989

Marshall King

Conal Casey

 

1988

John Murtagh

J McWilliam

 

1987

Mark Lyttle

Dan O'Grady

 

1986

Mark Lyttle

T McWilliam

 

1985

Paul Rowan

Nicky Timon

 

1984

Paul Rowan

Niall Alexander

 

1983

Brian Craig

Niall Alexander

 

1982

David Cummins

Michael Stavely

 

1981

David Cummins

Mark Lyttle

 

1980

T W Whisker

Justin Maguire

 

1979

Chris Arrowsmith

Justin Maguire

 

1978

Wiclif McCready

John Gilmore

 

1977

Wiclif McCready

Mark O'Hare

 

1976

Adrian Bell

Bryan Maguire

 

1975

David Gay

Joseph English

 

1974

Peter Duffy

Alan McFarlane

 

1973

Owen Delany

David McFarlane

 

1972

Harold Cudmore

Robert Bleakney

 

1971

Adrian Bell

   

1970

Robert Dix

   

1969

Maurice R Butler

   

1968

Vincent Delany

   

1967

T C M Morris

   

1966

John F Russell

   

1965

James Nixon

   

1964

J K O'Reilly

   

1963

Owen Delany

   

1962

G M Sargent

   

1961

M C Walsh

   

1960

J Clayton Love Jnr

   

1959

J O McCleary

   

1958

J K O'Reilly

   

1957

J Somers Payne

   

1956

J Somers Payne

   

1955

J Clayton Love Jnr

   

1954

Neville D Maguire

   

1953

Johnny Hooper

   

1952

Neville D Maguire

   

1951

Richard Uren

   

1950

Ted Crosbie

   

1949

Richard Uren

   

1948

John Weaving

   

1947

R Douglas Heard

   

 

ROYAL St GEORGE YACHT CLUB STAKES IT CLAIM

Yet despite those retrievals from fading memories, the impression generally is what a successful sport for life sailing is - and what an actively long-lived group its participants show themselves to be. Certainly, winning this Championship of Champions is a matter of pride to the new holder’s club, as was demonstrated back in 2013 when the RStGYC in Dun Laoghaire was holding its 175th Anniversary post-recession “cheer everyone up” celebration of the club’s national and international success since its foundation in 1838, and significant among the tangible memories of a marathon night was a photo of all the club’s winners of the Helmsman’s Championship

Members of the Royal St George Yacht Club who had won the Helmsmans Championship by 2013: Back Row (l to r): Robin Hennessey, Vincent Delaney, Johnny Ross-Murphy, Brian Craig, Peter Bayly; Front Row (l to r): Neil Hegarty, Sean Craig, Tom FitzPatrick, Adrian Bell, Stephan Hyde, Gerald 'Gerbil' Owens, Chris Arrowsmith, Matthew O'Dowd, and Commodore Liam O'Rourke. Photo: Gareth CraigMembers of the Royal St George Yacht Club who had won the Helmsmans Championship by 2013: Back Row (l to r): Robin Hennessey, Vincent Delaney, Johnny Ross-Murphy, Brian Craig, Peter Bayly; Front Row (l to r): Neil Hegarty, Sean Craig, Tom FitzPatrick, Adrian Bell, Stephan Hyde, Gerald 'Gerbil' Owens, Chris Arrowsmith, Matthew O'Dowd, and Commodore Liam O'Rourke. Photo: Gareth Craig

It may be noticed that some of these names were winners – in some cases well back in time – while sailing for other clubs, but the George would probably blithely reply that this indicated they were clearly suitable for future membership of heir club, and in any case not only was Douglas Heard a leading member and Commodore of the RSTGYC, but since then the club has come up again, and in looking at this year’s provisional list of invitees below, we see that defending champion Ger Owens (RStGYC) first notched a Supreme Champion win way back in 2000.

In 2021 he achieved special distinction by winning in the unfamiliar setting of a National 18 Ultima at Crosshaven. But in next month’s championship, he’ll be at home in GP 14s at Sutton, crewed by Melanie Morris of Newtownards SC whose dad, the Father of the GP 14s Curly Morris of Larne, won the Helmsmans way back in 1967 sailing for East Antrim Boat Club.

The Patriarch keeps the title – Anthony O’Leary (Royal Cork YC) successfully defending the title racing J/80s at the National YC in 2015. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’BrienThe Patriarch keeps the title – Anthony O’Leary (Royal Cork YC) successfully defending the title racing J/80s at the National YC in 2015. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

In more modern times, despite the recent Owens win at RCYC, the 21st Century has seen Crosshaven’s O’Leary family in the ascendant with some tremendous racing – mostly in J/80s - for the top title between father Anthony and sons Peter and Nin and more recently Rob – their combined total of wins is seven, with Nin taking three on the trot in 2008, ’09, & ’10.

It has to be said that the J/80 proved a reasonable compromise boat in which to stage the championship, but boat availability is always a problem, and the thriving GP14 Association, with its strong links to Sutton and Andy Johnston and his team makes it a more straightforward project as we continue to emerge from the national shutdown effects, even if the use of a dinghy - albeit a supposedly multi-use one – may preclude some keelboat sailors.

The new setup is aimed at increasing female participation. So far, the only female winner has been Laura Dillon (Howth YC) in 1996.The new setup is aimed at increasing female participation. So far, the only female winner has been Laura Dillon (Howth YC) in 1996. 

CHAMPIONS’ CUP 2022 INVITEES

The preliminary list of invitees will probably see changes as the date approaches, but it gives an interesting insight into the state of play in Irish sailing as the 2022 season draws to a close:

HELM

CREW

CLASS

CLUB

Ger Owens

Melanie Morris

GP14

Royal St. George Yacht Club

Ian Travers

Keith O’ Riordan

Squib

Kinsale Yacht Club

Michael O'Connor

Michelle Rowley

SB20

Royal St. George Yacht Club

Daragh Sheridan

Dan Gill

RS Aero

Howth Yacht Club

Peter Kennedy

Juliette Kennedy

Flying Fifteen

Strangford Lough Yacht Club

Aoife Hopkins

Aisling Keller

ILCA 6

Howth Yacht Club

David Dickson

Anna Leech

Shannon One Design

Lough Ree Yacht Club

John O'Driscoll

Diana Kissane

Water Wags

Royal St. George Yacht Club

Barry McCartin

Conor Kinsella

Fireball

Cushendall SBC

Robert Espey

Richard McCullough

RS400

Ballyholme Yacht Club

Jocelyn Hill

Jenny Lewis

RS200

County Antrim Yacht Club

Tadhg Ó Loingsigh

Brian Fox

J24

Tralee Bay Sailing Club

Shane MacCarthy

Josh Porter

GP14

Greystones Sailing Club

Cameron Good

Henry Kingston

Dragon

Kinsale Yacht Club

Jane Kearney

Ross Kearney

GP14

Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club

Niamh Henry

Dan Little

Team Racing

Royal St. George Yacht Club

       

 

Doubtless, there are those who feel they should see someone out of their particular class up there in lights, so feel free to use Afloat.ie as a forum. (email us here)

However, as to the business of it now being called the Champions’ Cup when the time-honoured trophy is clearly either a silver salver or tray, well – so be it. Champions’ Cup is a snappy alliterative gender-free re-branding, whereas re-naming it the Superstars Salver or some such over-contrived new title wouldn’t really cut the mustard.

And when we revealed the re-titling some weeks ago and wondered if the salver would be melted down to make a new cup, a sardonic commentator posted the thought that the salver looks to have been so vigorously polished over its 75 years that the new title would more realistically be the called Champions’ Egg Cup.

A well-worn prize…..2018 winner at Lough Ree YC Peter Kennedy (Strangford Lough YC) with the original trophy, while his shipmate Stephen Kane has the newer Crew’s Salver. Peter Kennedy is nominated for the Champions’ Cup 2022 with his daughter Juliette as National Flying Fifteen champions – his parents (and her grandparents) Terence and Bridget Kennedy (SLYC) were Flying Fifteen racers of world standard.A well-worn prize…..2018 winner at Lough Ree YC Peter Kennedy (Strangford Lough YC) with the original trophy, while his shipmate Stephen Kane has the newer Crew’s Salver. Peter Kennedy is nominated for the Champions’ Cup 2022 with his daughter Juliette as National Flying Fifteen champions – his parents (and her grandparents) Terence and Bridget Kennedy (SLYC) were Flying Fifteen racers of world standard.

So let it be the Champions’ Cup. They’ll probably have enough trouble from the last voices of the woke generation for using an elitist word like “Champion”. As for the last rites for Douglas Heard’s Salver, we are reminded of the story of when the Commissioners of Irish Lights were making their annual visit to Rathlin Island to inspect the three very special light-houses there.

The job done, they were leaving the harbour in their launch when Commissioner Patrick Jameson (a keen sailing man) felt he should engage in conversation with one of the notably taciturn islanders watching from the quayside.

“What’s that new building going up on the other side of the harbour?” he asked.

“It’s the new pub”

“Oh really. How interesting. What happened to the old pub?”

“It got wore out”

Published in W M Nixon, All Irelands
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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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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