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Peter Gray 1935 – 2022

17th February 2022
The late Peter Gray of Dun Laoghaire (left) as President of the Irish Sailing Association in 1988, with Paddy O’Neill of Malahide, one of his Vice Presidents and a subsequent successor as President
The late Peter Gray of Dun Laoghaire (left) as President of the Irish Sailing Association in 1988, with Paddy O’Neill of Malahide, one of his Vice Presidents and a subsequent successor as President

The death of Peter Gray of Dun Laoghaire at the age of 86 has taken from among us a remarkable and multi-talented man who, in many ways, was the personification of maritime Dun Laoghaire and its interaction with Dublin Bay and the seas and oceans of the world beyond. 

His extended family’s numerous connections with the sea were most directly expressed though his brother, Captain Dennis Gray, who rose to become Operations Manager for Irish Lights, while Peter’s own involvement was in enthusiastic sailing at all levels up to the Olympics.

At a personal level, the matrix of his life with boats was further developed by becoming one of the “Millar Men” with marriage to Susan Millar, one of the five daughters of sailing architect Toby Millar whose courageous wife Joy – widowed in 1958 – continued the family’s exuberant involvement with boats both on Dublin Bay and along the Shannon, with inland waterways cruising and sailing the lakes being added to Peter Gray’s many waterborne interests.

In professional life he began working in the Ulster Bank when the local bank branch was one of the most highly-respected cornerstones of any community, and having become manager of the Dun Laoghaire branch, he was subsequently recruited to headquarters staff in Dublin and retired as one of the Directors.

This steady working progression was to provide him with a security of employment – a steady job – of a kind which is beyond the imagination of many folk today. With a comfortably-regulated life, he was able to give large chunks of his free time to other interests, including much voluntary work in sailing and its administration. Thus in his latter years he was somewhat at odds with the increasing specialization and inevitably paid positions which were being brought to projects which, in his younger years, he’d happily have filled on an amateur basis.

Lifelong shipmates – Peter and Susan GrayLifelong shipmates – Peter and Susan Gray

His sailing started in the embryonic junior section of the National Yacht Club with talented contemporaries such as Michael O’Rahilly and Johnny Hooper. The specified junior boat in those pre-Optimist days was the Heron, but any promising young talent would soon have access to the Firefly fleet and the highest levels of team racing, which became one of Peter Gray’s many talents.

Other boats he was to sail with varying levels of involvement were to include over time Mermaids, Flying Fifteens, 505s, and Fireballs, but through the 1950s his hopes for active Olympic involvement increased, and in time he moved his sailing focus to the Royal St George YC, home club of Jimmy Mooney and his father Billy, who had been advocating active Irish Olympic participation for years.

The Mooney enthusiasm had been first met in 1948, with Irish participation by two boats at Torquay, the two-man 26ft Swallow keelboat raced by Alf Delaney and Hugh Allen, while the single-handed Firefly was raced by Jimmy Money. By 1952 in Helsinki, Olympic boat types had been slightly rationalised, and the advent of the challenging but rewarding Olympic Finn for the 1952 Games encouraged Alf Delany to be Irish sailing’s only Olympic representative.

The 1956 Games in Melbourne provided an even more demanding logistics challenge, yet the gallant Somers Payne of Cork managed to get himself out there to race a Finn for Ireland. However, the key outcome of 1956 was Ronnie Delany’s athletics Gold Medal for Ireland in the 1,500 metres.

This transformed Irish attitudes to Olympic involvement by a national team, and with the 1960 Olympics within reach in Rome, with the sailing to be staged in Naples, the Irish Dinghy Racing Association - with Clayton Love Jnr of Cork as President - took on the role of acting National Authority with every intention of sending the strongest possible team to Naples.

By this time Peter Gray and Johnny Hooper and their supporters had the resources to contemplate an admittedly very economically-run campaign for the two-man Flying Dutchman. Their Corinthian enthusiasm to see it through was the stuff of legend. Their campaign vehicle was the ingeniously-modified family Volkswagen Beetle, the main modification being an above-car structure – the term “roof rack” is scarcely adequate – so that they could make their journeys much more nimbly and economically by carrying the boat on top.

“A magnificent beast” – the Olympic Flying Dutchman was not for the faint-hearted, particularly when being conveyed between regattas on the roof of a Volkswagen Beetle“A magnificent beast” – the Olympic Flying Dutchman was not for the faint-hearted, particularly when being conveyed between regattas on the roof of a Volkswagen Beetle

Modern sailors have this explained to them by saying that it was like have a VW Beetle going around with a Flying Fifteen hull on top, but in fact that’s an under-statement – the Flying Dutchman was a magnificent beast of a boat which could actually plane when going to windward, and while similar in overall length to the Flying Fifteen hull, it was volumetrically almost twice the size.

Yet despite the somewhat Heath Robinson-style mode of travel, Ireland’s Flying Dutchman crew got to Naples in good order to join Clayton Love Jnr as Team Manager, Jimmy Mooney, Robin Benson and Rob Dalton racing a Dragon, and Somers Payne with a Finn. And in the end, it was the FD which got the best result.

Indeed, they eventually were conceded as having Ireland’s first win in an Olympic Race. But they had missed the singular glory of getting the victory gun.

That went to the Italian super-star FD sailor, the pin-up boy of the Italian Olympic Sailing team. But when some killjoy produced evidence to show that in order to win he hadn’t actually rounded a very crowded mark, it was eventually grudgingly conceded that it had been an Irish win.

Johnny Hooper, with whom Peter Gray shared Ireland’s first Olympic Race win.Johnny Hooper, with whom Peter Gray shared Ireland’s first Olympic Race win.

Despite the frustrations and getting by on minimal resources, Peter Gray’s enthusiasm for the Olympics never dimmed, but his enthusiasm increasingly was for a lost world, as he believed passionately in the Corinthian ideal right up to the Olympic level.

He quietly but tellingly expressed this in 1973 when he became Honorary Treasurer of the Olympic Council of Ireland. In today’s world, the very thought of an honorary official looking after the day-to-day finances of such a body seems like a dream, yet Peter Gray’s lifetime happened to coincide with last years of an innocent period when amateur enthusiasm still did mean just that, albeit against increasing pro-professional pressures.

Meanwhile with a growing family and regular sailing in Dublin Bay helping life to move smoothly along during the later 1960s, he’d something of a shock to his general lifeview in 1970. For in 1970, the bank clerks of Ireland – and whether they liked it or not, the bank managers with them – went on strike for six whole months.

Today with online banking, we can visualise a world with closed doors at the now-few bank branches, but in 1970 this was an earthquake. And for Peter Gray, now manager of the Ulster Bank in Dun Laoghaire and a local pillar of society, it was particularly stressful. Yet typically he reacted with action. He and Ger Dowling set up a temporary sailing school with two Mermaid 17ft dinghies, and kept themselves busy through the summer with much good work which resulted in a steady stream of newcomers into sailing, and particularly into the then hugely-popular Mermaid class.

The 1932-designd 17ft Mermaid was one of Dublin Bay’s most popular classes in 1970, and Peter Gray used two of them to provide a sailing school in Dun Laoghaire while at a loose end during the 6-month Bank Strike.The 1932-designed 17ft Mermaid was one of Dublin Bay’s most popular classes in 1970, and Peter Gray used two of them to provide a sailing school in Dun Laoghaire while at a loose end during the 6-month Bank Strike.

Yet as he was by this time very much part of the Dun Laoghaire sailing establishment with its three majestic waterfront clubs, the success of his temporary sailing school led him to the conclusion that the clubs were failing to fulfill their potential in introducing and training newcomers in sailing. It became his mission to remedy this through increasing involvement with the Irish Sailing Association as it emerged from the Irish Yachting Association which in turn – in 1962 – had emerged from the Irish Dinghy Racing Association.

Yet despite his reverence for the basic structures of Dublin Bay sailing, he was open to welcome technological developments, and when the Laser first appeared in the early 1970s, he was bowled over with enthusiasm, and he and locally-based international sailing administrator Ken Ryan set about getting a strong Dun Laoghaire class up and running, and inevitably Peter became the Class’s Honorary Treasurer in 1974.

In his eyes, one of the virtues of the Laser was that its ingenious simplicity left you plenty of other energy for other boats, and by this time he was a sailing polymath, his interests including Dragon racing, cruiser-racing, the occasional offshore passage event, and cruising too. He and Susan made such a compatible and able couple on a cruising boat that they were actively welcomed on board several craft, and by 1980 they joined the Irish Cruising Club. But while they were such an onboard asset that there was no need for a boat of their own, they were increasingly nurturing a retirement dream of a round the world cruise in their own craft. But there was much work to be done and other sailing to be completed before the time arrived to achieve that dream.

Peter’s active role in sailing administration continued to develop and in 1985 he became President of the Irish Sailing Association for a three year term. He was a hard-working and effective administrator, and an able negotiator when working out sponsorship deals, even if his reverence for the amateur ideal in all its manifestations made him still somewhat wary of sponsorships.

Doing the deal. During the 1980s, Heineken entered the Irish market with renewed vigour, and used sailing sponsorship as one of their promotional tools. As President of the ISA, Peter Gray (right) is seen here after clinching a deal with Heineken Ireland MD Gerry van Zoeust.Doing the deal. During the 1980s, Heineken entered the Irish market with renewed vigour, and used sailing sponsorship as one of their promotional tools. As President of the ISA, Peter Gray (right) is seen here after clinching a deal with Heineken Ireland MD Gerry van Zoeust.

Equally, he was more than ever convinced that the yacht and sailing clubs of Ireland were failing to reach their full potential to encourage sailing growth within their own infrastructure. So during his time as President, the ISA was most definitely not encouraging towards the growth of commercial sailing schools, particularly in Dun Laoghaire where the increasingly extensive club shoreside facilities seemed to be under-utilised for much of the time, and then briefly but grossly over-used at others.

In having this attitude, Peter Gray was reflective both of his time and of the belief that the strength of the national authority and sailing lay in serving the best needs of the clubs. This was particularly so where the clubs needed to be quietly encouraged into seeing where their best interests lay. It was an attitude which persists today, and in a sense reflects the unrivalled length of history in Ireland’s many sailing clubs – it’s arguable that a tradition like that should be nurtured rather than changed with a totally commercial point of view.

Fighting for club rights. ISA President Peter Gray (right) in an on-site meeting with local TD and government minister Sean Barrett to assert club rights in Dun Laoghaire waterfront development – ISA Junior Committee member Dave Dwyer of Howth at centre. Photo: W M NixonFighting for club rights. ISA President Peter Gray (right) in an on-site meeting with local TD and government minister Sean Barrett to assert club rights in Dun Laoghaire waterfront development – ISA Junior Committee member Dave Dwyer of Howth at centre. Photo: W M Nixon

Certainly, if everyone had the genuinely Corinthian outlook on sailing of Peter Gray – an outlook shared throughout his by-now very extended boat-minded family – then such an attitude would be for the good. But by the time the crude harshness of modern life - with a price on everything - had seeped into sailing, Peter and Susan Gray were well removed from the debate, as they were off round the world on an eight year cruise with their Rival 41 Waxwing.

The Rival 41 Waxwing which carried Peter & Susan Gray around the world from Dublin Bay between 1995 and 2003The Rival 41 Waxwing which carried Peter & Susan Gray around the world from Dublin Bay between 1995 and 2003
Well on their way….Waxwing in a breeze of wind off St Lucia in the Caribbean in March 1996 after their first Transatlantic crossingWell on their way….Waxwing in a breeze of wind off St Lucia in the Caribbean in March 1996 after their first Transatlantic crossing

Their global cruise from 1995 to 2003 was ostensibly for a family visit in New Zealand, but in truth with their broad range of sailing friends and relations, it was a glorious moveable feast of many visiting crews in exotic places, with the flavour of it all perfectly captured in a stream of consciousness paragraph contributed by Susan to the 1997 Irish Cruising Club Annual:

While we were in Vava’u, our daughter Nickey and our two small grandchildren flew up from Auckland to spend time with us and we re-learned the near-forgotten skills of sandcastle building and rock pool exploring and responding to excited children who imagined whales and dolphins in every white-capped wave while we sailed among the many reef-fringed islands with their luxuriant foliage and wonderful beaches of fine golden sand

Susan and grandson Sam in TongaSusan and grandson Sam in Tonga

Of course it wasn’t all gentle family sailing. The Pacific Ocean is an enormous space where – twenty years ago – violent storms could still sweep undetected though some un-populated areas, and in making the final stage of their passage from Tonga to New Zealand, Waxwing ran into a three-day storm so violent that a lesser boat and crew might have succumbed. They were awarded the Irish Cruising Club’s Rockabill Trophy for seamanship for their skill and determination in coming safely through, and for remaining keen to sail.

Indeed, such was their enthusiasm that after leaving New Zealand following a protracted stay, they extended their overall voyage to return to cruising the Pacific Isles, become part of that international sea-wandering community which provides mutual support and fellowship.

Pacific island-hopping – Waxwing’s crew with the Deputy Chief at Nambus in mid-PacificPacific island-hopping – Waxwing’s crew with the Deputy Chief at Nambus in mid-Pacific
Celebrating the fellowship of the sea – partying aboard Waxwing in a remote Pacific anchorage.Celebrating the fellowship of the sea – partying aboard Waxwing in a remote Pacific anchorage

Yet on one long passage, Waxwing was on her own when a violent tropical storm engulfed her, and despite being a hefty 41 footer she was completely caught up in a huge breaking sea which they managed to survive, but with such damage to all electronics and other equipment that they had to have an extended stay in Tahiti getting it all sorted professionally before heading west and reluctantly leaving their beloved isles to cross the Indian Ocean and reach the Atlantic via South Africa.

Game for anything – Waxwing’s crew during some hot air ballooning at Bundaberg in AustraliaGame for anything – Waxwing’s crew during some hot air ballooning at Bundaberg in Australia

Their return to Ireland in 2003 was low key at first, quietly making their number with friends at Sandycove in Kinsale. But inevitably the Date With Dublin Bay beckoned, and in a sunny Sunday in July 2003 Waxwing returned to Dublin Bay and a gala welcome from the Royal St George Yacht Club.

They had seen much and done more, and achieved great things. But there was still considerable cruising curiosity in Peter and Susan Gray, and for several seasons they cleverly based Waxwing in the almost anonymous marina in Cahirsiveen in Kerry, and explored the southwest and west coast of Ireland in peaceful detail. Subsequently, they were to be found at New Ross in the River Barrow, but age and illness were taking their toll, and they parted company with the beloved vessel with which they’d shared so many exceptional experiences.

And now, Peter Gray’s extraordinary life is ended. A frequent shipmate gives him this salutation: “If I was heading into bad weather far at sea, there’s no skipper I would rather be with than Peter Gray. He was one of the greatest seamen of his generation”.

Our heartfelt condolences to Susan and the immediate family, and to Peter’s extended family and very many friends - they are legion.

What now? A newspaper from July 2003 showing Waxwing’s crew looking thoughtful on their return to Dublin BayWhat now? A newspaper from July 2003 showing Waxwing’s crew looking thoughtful on their return to Dublin Bay

Back in home waters - Waxwing cruising off the Fastnet Rock  Photo: Bob BatemanWaxwing cruising off the Fastnet Rock Photo: Bob Bateman

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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Dun Laoghaire Harbour Information

Dun Laoghaire Harbour is the second port for Dublin and is located on the south shore of Dublin Bay. Marine uses for this 200-year-old man-made harbour have changed over its lifetime. Originally built as a port of refuge for sailing ships entering the narrow channel at Dublin Port, the harbour has had a continuous ferry link with Wales and this was the principal activity of the harbour until the service stopped in 2015. In all this time, however, one thing has remained constant and that is the popularity for sailing and boating from the port, making it Ireland's marine leisure capital with a harbour fleet of over 1,200-1.600 pleasure craft.

Dun Laoghaire Harbour Bye-Laws

Download the bye-laws on this link here

FAQs

A live stream Dublin Bay webcam showing Dun Laoghaire Harbour entrance and East Pier is here

Dun Laoghaire is a Dublin suburb situated on the south side of Dublin Bay, approximately, 15km from Dublin city centre.

The east and west piers of the harbour are each of 1 kilometre (0.62 miles) long.

The harbour entrance is 232 metres (761 ft) across from East to West Pier.

  • Public Boatyard
  • Public slipway
  • Public Marina

23 clubs, 14 activity providers and eight state-related organisations operate from Dun Laoghaire Harbour that facilitates a full range of sports - Sailing, Rowing, Diving, Windsurfing, Angling, Canoeing, Swimming, Triathlon, Powerboating, Kayaking and Paddleboarding. Participants include members of the public, club members, tourists, disabled, disadvantaged, event competitors, schools, youth groups and college students.

  • Commissioners of Irish Lights
  • Dun Laoghaire Marina
  • MGM Boats & Boatyard
  • Coastguard
  • Naval Service Reserve
  • Royal National Lifeboat Institution
  • Marine Activity Centre
  • Rowing clubs
  • Yachting and Sailing Clubs
  • Sailing Schools
  • Irish Olympic Sailing Team
  • Chandlery & Boat Supply Stores

The east and west granite-built piers of Dun Laoghaire harbour are each of one kilometre (0.62 mi) long and enclose an area of 250 acres (1.0 km2) with the harbour entrance being 232 metres (761 ft) in width.

In 2018, the ownership of the great granite was transferred in its entirety to Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council who now operate and manage the harbour. Prior to that, the harbour was operated by The Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company, a state company, dissolved in 2018 under the Ports Act.

  • 1817 - Construction of the East Pier to a design by John Rennie began in 1817 with Earl Whitworth Lord Lieutenant of Ireland laying the first stone.
  • 1820 - Rennie had concerns a single pier would be subject to silting, and by 1820 gained support for the construction of the West pier to begin shortly afterwards. When King George IV left Ireland from the harbour in 1820, Dunleary was renamed Kingstown, a name that was to remain in use for nearly 100 years. The harbour was named the Royal Harbour of George the Fourth which seems not to have remained for so long.
  • 1824 - saw over 3,000 boats shelter in the partially completed harbour, but it also saw the beginning of operations off the North Wall which alleviated many of the issues ships were having accessing Dublin Port.
  • 1826 - Kingstown harbour gained the important mail packet service which at the time was under the stewardship of the Admiralty with a wharf completed on the East Pier in the following year. The service was transferred from Howth whose harbour had suffered from silting and the need for frequent dredging.
  • 1831 - Royal Irish Yacht Club founded
  • 1837 - saw the creation of Victoria Wharf, since renamed St. Michael's Wharf with the D&KR extended and a new terminus created convenient to the wharf.[8] The extended line had cut a chord across the old harbour with the landward pool so created later filled in.
  • 1838 - Royal St George Yacht Club founded
  • 1842 - By this time the largest man-made harbour in Western Europe had been completed with the construction of the East Pier lighthouse.
  • 1855 - The harbour was further enhanced by the completion of Traders Wharf in 1855 and Carlisle Pier in 1856. The mid-1850s also saw the completion of the West Pier lighthouse. The railway was connected to Bray in 1856
  • 1871 - National Yacht Club founded
  • 1884 - Dublin Bay Sailing Club founded
  • 1918 - The Mailboat, “The RMS Leinster” sailed out of Dún Laoghaire with 685 people on board. 22 were post office workers sorting the mail; 70 were crew and the vast majority of the passengers were soldiers returning to the battlefields of World War I. The ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat near the Kish lighthouse killing many of those onboard.
  • 1920 - Kingstown reverted to the name Dún Laoghaire in 1920 and in 1924 the harbour was officially renamed "Dun Laoghaire Harbour"
  • 1944 - a diaphone fog signal was installed at the East Pier
  • 1965 - Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club founded
  • 1968 - The East Pier lighthouse station switched from vapourised paraffin to electricity, and became unmanned. The new candle-power was 226,000
  • 1977- A flying boat landed in Dun Laoghaire Harbour, one of the most unusual visitors
  • 1978 - Irish National Sailing School founded
  • 1934 - saw the Dublin and Kingstown Railway begin operations from their terminus at Westland Row to a terminus at the West Pier which began at the old harbour
  • 2001 - Dun Laoghaire Marina opens with 500 berths
  • 2015 - Ferry services cease bringing to an end a 200-year continuous link with Wales.
  • 2017- Bicentenary celebrations and time capsule laid.
  • 2018 - Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company dissolved, the harbour is transferred into the hands of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council

From East pier to West Pier the waterfront clubs are:

  • National Yacht Club. Read latest NYC news here
  • Royal St. George Yacht Club. Read latest RSTGYC news here
  • Royal Irish Yacht Club. Read latest RIYC news here
  • Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club. Read latest DMYC news here

 

The umbrella organisation that organises weekly racing in summer and winter on Dublin Bay for all the yacht clubs is Dublin Bay Sailing Club. It has no clubhouse of its own but operates through the clubs with two x Committee vessels and a starters hut on the West Pier. Read the latest DBSC news here.

The sailing community is a key stakeholder in Dún Laoghaire. The clubs attract many visitors from home and abroad and attract major international sailing events to the harbour.

 

Dun Laoghaire Regatta

Dun Laoghaire's biennial town regatta was started in 2005 as a joint cooperation by the town's major yacht clubs. It was an immediate success and is now in its eighth edition and has become Ireland's biggest sailing event. The combined club's regatta is held in the first week of July.

  • Attracts 500 boats and more from overseas and around the country
  • Four-day championship involving 2,500 sailors with supporting family and friends
  • Economic study carried out by the Irish Marine Federation estimated the economic value of the 2009 Regatta at €2.5 million

The dates for the 2021 edition of Ireland's biggest sailing event on Dublin Bay is: 8-11 July 2021. More details here

Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Offshore Race

The biennial Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race is a 320-miles race down the East coast of Ireland, across the south coast and into Dingle harbour in County Kerry. The latest news on the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race can be found by clicking on the link here. The race is organised by the National Yacht Club.

The 2021 Race will start from the National Yacht Club on Wednesday 9th, June 2021.

Round Ireland Yacht Race

This is a Wicklow Sailing Club race but in 2013 the Garden County Club made an arrangement that sees see entries berthed at the RIYC in Dun Laoghaire Harbour for scrutineering prior to the biennial 704–mile race start off Wicklow harbour. Larger boats have been unable to berth in the confines of Wicklow harbour, a factor WSC believes has restricted the growth of the Round Ireland fleet. 'It means we can now encourage larger boats that have shown an interest in competing but we have been unable to cater for in Wicklow' harbour, WSC Commodore Peter Shearer told Afloat.ie here. The race also holds a pre-ace launch party at the Royal Irish Yacht Club.

Laser Masters World Championship 2018

  • 301 boats from 25 nations

Laser Radial World Championship 2016

  • 436 competitors from 48 nations

ISAF Youth Worlds 2012

  • The Youth Olympics of Sailing run on behalf of World Sailing in 2012.
  • Two-week event attracting 61 nations, 255 boats, 450 volunteers.
  • Generated 9,000 bed nights and valued at €9 million to the local economy.

The Harbour Police are authorised by the company to police the harbour and to enforce and implement bye-laws within the harbour, and all regulations made by the company in relation to the harbour.

There are four ship/ferry berths in Dun Laoghaire:

  • No 1 berth (East Pier)
  • No 2 berth (east side of Carlisle Pier)
  • No 3 berth (west side of Carlisle Pier)
  • No 4 berth  (St, Michaels Wharf)

Berthing facilities for smaller craft exist in the town's 800-berth marina and on swinging moorings.

© Afloat 2020

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