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The Late Julie Ascoop Was An Inspiration for the IDRA 14 Class and Ireland’s Maritime World

16th May 2022
Julie Ascoop (1968-2022) was a breath of fresh air for sailing in Ireland and the larger Irish maritime world
Julie Ascoop (1968-2022) was a breath of fresh air for sailing in Ireland and the larger Irish maritime world

Afloat.ie much appreciates being invited to publish this Appreciation by the IDRA 14 Class Association of the much-mourned Julie Ascoop, whose untimely passing has taken an inspirational maritime enthusiast from among us. We are particularly grateful to Charles and Ian Sargent for their dedication in compiling this group effort.

It is with great sadness that the IDRA 14 Class learned of the recent death of Julie Ascoop, a former National Champion and a central character in the sailing and social activities of our Class Association for the past two decades.

It's easy to remember Julie, to talk about her and say what a fantastic person she was. Her qualities were tangible, connected to the lives of people around her. There are so many of us who can relate stories and moments where she impressed us, or even changed us personally. Julie was the kind of person you felt comfortable talking to, because you knew she would respond critically but enthusiastically, giving her opinion and insight, while not forgetting the possibility of the fun side.

When she asked for help, she had thought about the problem and worked out options. This made helping her more about having a chat and a joke than a chore. We were very fortunate that when she first arrived in Ireland from the Netherlands, fate led her to Clontarf Yacht & Boat Club when conveniently 14/143 was for sale – once on the hook, we weren't going to let her jump ship to another Class…

EARLY DAYS IN THE NETHERLANDS

But let's start at the beginning. Julie was born in Utrecht in The Netherlands in 1968 to Belgian parents Carl and Rita, and lived near there with two younger sisters, Anouk and Cathy. Julie's character and qualities emerged early in life - she often lamented how the name of Ascoop was so disadvantageous in school, as she was always called on first, but perhaps that made her stronger. She got her first sailing dinghy, an Optimist, at the age of eight.

Getting to grips with the IDRA 14 and the sailing scene in Ireland – Julie and Heather Keenan shaping up for a start with 14/143 at Clontarf Open in 2007Getting to grips with the IDRA 14 and the sailing scene in Ireland – Julie and Heather Keenan shaping up for a start with 14/143 at Clontarf Open in 2007

After a bit of damage from a collision, her father insisted that she go herself to the boatman to discuss the price of the repairs. She progressed on to sail a Mirror, and later a 420 – and went sailing to Sweden, and to Germany, and to the south of France. And she went sailing again and again. She wasn't to know it then, but she was building an excellent career path towards sailing IDRA 14s.

Her practicality and "can-do" approach to life brought her to Delft University – renowned for its maritime connections - in The Netherlands, where she met other young women studying to become engineers in what was very much man's world. As a student, Julie taught many of them how to do some simple DIY - she became a master at it, while always showing generosity and encouragement to others.

GRADUATON FROM DELFT

She graduated from Delft with a Masters Degree in Civil Engineering in 1994, and naturally for a keen sailor, she specialised in Maritime Structures. This led her to Ireland in 2000, employed as the construction project manager for main contractor Ascon on the Berth 50 container terminal in Dublin Port, and onto the Irish dinghy sailing scene – but more about that later.

Heather and Julie at the IDRA 14 Nats in Sligo in 2008Discovering the Atlantic seaboard – Heather and Julie at the IDRA 14 Nats in Sligo in 2008

Ascon later became BAM, a large civil engineering contractor working in numerous European countries and worldwide, and Julie worked for BAM on various projects around the coast of Ireland and the Netherlands. She later took up the post of Associate Director with Arup, where she was maritime business leader in Arup Ireland and maritime skills leader for Arup Europe, working with both consultants and contractors in Ireland, the Netherlands and
Germany.

As a Chartered Civil Engineer, a member of the Institute of Engineers of Ireland, the Royal Institute of Engineers in the Netherlands and on the council of the Marine Renewables Industry Association (MRIA), Julie developed a significant number of coastal erosion studies and design of coastal protection works for Ireland and internationally.

Central to the Irish marine engineering business, she was project manager on the AMETS wave energy test site development on behalf of SEAI and later project director for the design of the new Greenore heavy duty quay wall. Among her projects was a study to assess the potential effects of climate change on the historical protected structure, Howth Harbour's East Pier, designed by John Rennie and constructed in 1813.

MOVING INTO IRISH LIGHTS COMMISSION

In October 2020 Julie made a career move: still central to the Irish maritime scene, she joined Irish Lights as their Director of Coastal Operations. In this role, she led the Coastal Operations team who deliver the land-based, floating and electronic Aids to Navigation provided on the Irish coast, and oversaw the Safety Management across the organization, while managing support and planning requirements including aircraft services, and also operating the Headquarters facility at Dun Laoghaire.

This win at Lough Erne in 2012 inspired a boat upgradeThis win at Lough Erne in 2012 inspired a boat upgrade

She also oversaw the provision of commercial services to cover the strategic management of Irish Lights Assets, such as its property portfolio including the Great Lighthouses of Ireland tourism initiative which is currently being featured n an RTE TV series, and the implementation of the Irish Lights sustainability strategy.

Typically of Julie, outside of work she quickly built a great network of new friends in Ireland. She was particularly passionate about the environment and nature - this was reflected in the choices she made in her career path and her hobbies, which involved protecting the Irish coastline on the weekdays, and enjoying it on the weekends. She joined a walking club, hiking, climbing, and of course sailing her IDRA 14 (No. 143 which she re-named "Chaos") in Clontarf Yacht & Boat Club, where she amazed fellow sailors by showing how one so light of frame was able to effortlessly sail and compete in all weathers and conditions with the large IDRA main fleet.

Into the sharp end of the fleet – christening ceremony for the high-performance No 125 at Clontarf in 2013Into the sharp end of the fleet – christening ceremony for the high-performance No 125 at Clontarf in 2013

IDRA 14 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS

With Heather Keenan aboard as crew, the pair moved up the leader board at IDRA 14 events at home and away. Never the heaviest or strongest helm in the fleet, she never shied away from heavy weather conditions. In fact, her skilful boat handling and sheer determination often saw her finish very well in conditions that theoretically didn't suit her. The 2012 IDRA 14 National Championships was hosted by Lough Erne Yacht Club in Enniskillen, and was memorable as for the first time we had an all-female crew, Julie and Heather, emerge as close winners. They were also the lightest team afloat in that event which experienced heavy winds, yet they still sailed away with the gold medals.

As National Champions, Julie and Heather qualified to represent the IDRA 14 Class at the 2012 All Ireland Helmsman’s Championships raced in J/80s at Dromineer on Lough Derg. Julie chose Rioghnach Corbett and Wendy Rudd to join them as crew that weekend, delighted to be able to put forward an all-female team, which was of course her quiet way of being all things pro-women, with her crew much amused by the outdated title of the championship.

J/80 CHALLENGE

They also set out to have a weekend of laughter and fun: while the other competitors were ultra-serious, these women didn't realistically hold out much hope of competing at the top level and were happy to just participate in the weekend.

Although highly competent and competitive, Julie was also about fun – Wendy recalls that she has never laughed or enjoyed a sailing event before or since in the same way, even from the trepidation of the weigh-in (for her - not Julie or the other shipmates!). They used fellow IDRA 14 sailor Pat O'Neill's previous knowledge to help and support them to rig and give tips on sailing these unfamiliar J80 boats - the IDRA clan, as is their tradition, supporting each other even when in competition against each other.

It was Julie's first time helming a J80, and their first time sailing all together. Heather remembers they were the last ones to leave the slip for the first race, and were nearly late for the start: after pushing off from the slip and two quick tacks up to the line, they were already starting. Yet Julie was undaunted by sailing a much larger boat than she was used to, and remained calm, supportive, encouraging and competitive.

With the only yellow hull in the fleet, the starts with 125 had to be spot onWith the only yellow hull in the fleet, the starts with 125 had to be spot on

While not up there with the fleet toppers, they sailed competitively in mid-fleet and made their presence felt. But it is the banter, fun, laughter and craic which is a fond memory. Even facilitating some liaisons for the unattached crew and laughing for hours when the four of them shared a room (like born-again teenagers) in the Dromineer Lodge.

JOINING DMYC

All good things come to an end, and with her work becoming Dun Laoghaire-based, Julie left Clontarf, but not the Class. She moved her boat to Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club which was more convenient to her home. The Northside’s loss was a Southside gain - Julie was active in promoting the IDRA class there, and contributed greatly to the DMYC committee, quietly taking on many other responsibilities to further the Club and dinghy sailing in general.

She sold 14/143 and bought 14/125, now very visible as the only yellow boat in the IDRA fleet – there was no way she could get away with an OCS. She was also actively involved and a driver in the rejuvenation of 14/133, which was very aptly re-named "Dutch Courage" at her suggestion.

Julie always had time to help others, she could take on any boat repair task with the best of them, and she was not only a "can do" person - her fellow sailors describe her as also being a "you can do it" person, always encouraging others to push their boundaries. And typically, she designed a very successful system for single-handedly loading her boat onto a combi-trailer.

Game for every challenge – Julie revelling in the atmosphere at Galway Bay SC during the breezy 2017 NationalsGame for every challenge – Julie revelling in the atmosphere at Galway Bay SC during the breezy 2017 Nationals

An impressive presence on the water, she encouraged all her crews to aim higher than they believed possible, with spinnakers raised almost regardless of weather. She also sometimes swopped roles and went afloat as a crew, bringing an extra insight to some helms…… Ever the environmentalist, she occasionally used to bring a small net on the IDRA, and use it to pick up rubbish from the sea on the way back from races. To keep Class members in contact socially over the winter, she organised and led great pre-season walks.

IMAGINATIVE ENGINEERING IN HOUSE UP-GRADE

On and off the water, Julie has been the "go-to" person for maintenance and repair. The wonderful home that she and her partner Áine created in the heart of Dun Laoghaire is testament to her engineering and DIY abilities. An architect advised them against purchasing the house in Corrig Park, but he reckoned without Julie's imagination. With not much space outside for an extension, she decided to build downwards and excavated the basement. She underpinned the walls, put in new floors and created a lower ground level that almost doubled the size of the house. Only an engineer of Julie's calibre would have been able to do this, and her engineer's mind informed all her endeavours.

UPDATING THE IDRA14 RULES

Applying her professional talents to her recreational sailing, in 2017 Julie volunteered to join fellow sailors Alan Henry and Donal Heney on the IDRA 14 Class Rules committee to reformat their Class Rules to comply with World Sailing's Equipment Rules of Sailing. Having a set of Class Rules in line with the World Sailing Class Rules template 2009 (updated 2012) is very important for any competitive class.

It means the Class Rules can now be read in conjunction with World Sailing's Equipment Rules of Sailing for 2017-2020, known as the ERS. The Equipment Rules of Sailing (ERS) govern the equipment used in the sport. They are revised and published every four years by World Sailing. The ERS provides sailors, measurers, boatbuilders and sailmakers alike with standard definitions and methods of measurements that, when used in Class Rules, avoid misinterpretation and potential conflict.

Prize collection Julie with IDRA 14 Commodore Charles SargentPrize collection Julie with IDRA 14 Commodore Charles Sargent

When the IDRA Class Rules Committee got started on their Skype meetings, it soon emerged that each of the three IDRA 14 sailors had their own area of specialisation. Alan, an engineer and numerous times class national champion, had consistently innovated and pushed the boundaries within the class. Donal's expertise was boat building, as he played a central role in the building of IDRA 14/166 in 2016 (the first wooden IDRA to be built in over thirty years). Julie, as a chartered engineer and also former class national champion, specialised in standards and specifications. "Each brought a different experience to the job which made for a very good team", Julie commented.

Starting back in 2018, the team of three on the IDRA 14 Class Rules committee met virtually, on a fortnightly basis, via Skype and used Google Docs to complete the intricate work of transposing the 1983 IDRA 14 Class Rules from various class documents and original 1945 drawings to the latest World Sailing template. Meeting remotely meant that they could get on with the job without having to spend time organising a venue and travelling.

TEAM-WORK IN RULES UP-DATE

Each team member took on homework to be completed before the next online meeting. This entailed tasks such as measuring a part of the boat, taking photos or checking approaches taken in the rules of other classes, such as the Fireballs or 470s. Using Google Docs during their meetings meant that when a committee member was inputting text in the new document, the others could work on the same document at the same time thus addressing the issue of revision control.

The class members were very much on board with the move to reformat the rules and held two Information and Question & Answer sessions at the start of the process. These two meetings were held in Clontarf and Dun Laoghaire, as IDRA 14 racing takes place in Sutton Dinghy Club, Clontarf Yacht & Boat Club and in Dublin Bay Sailing Club, with most of the Dun Laoghaire boats raced from the Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club.

At the information sessions, it was made clear that the aim was not to change the class rules but to make sure that they were compliant with the latest version of the World Sailing ERS and to sort out any anomalies.

The IDRA Class Rules Committee managed to complete the vast majority of the work through virtual meetings and was extremely lucky that the information meetings, the meeting with the class measurers and the EGM all took place before March 2020.

By the time the country was in the grip of Covid restrictions, all that remained to be done was just to implement the decisions made at the Class Rules EGM. As well as passing the IDRA Association Class Rules 2020 at the January EGM, the class members accepted 18 of the 22 proposals which the Class Rules Committee had come up with, arising from the anomalies they had identified during their class rules work.

Julie saw the broader benefits for the class in having the IDRA Class Rules compliant with the World Sailing Class Rules. "The main thing is that it's now in the right format and uses the correct definitions", she explained. "A sailmaker, for example, will know the relevant ERS numbers for each particular measurement of the sail and will have all the information to hand in a format that's familiar". It will also make it much easier, she added, to update the class rules at any point, something which might be required if there are any future developments in technology or racing equipment.

A COMBINATION OF SPECIAL QUALITIES

All the qualities that we admire and aspire to – honesty, integrity, courage, good humour, ingenuity -Julie had them in spades. She was much loved, well respected and such an unassuming, intelligent, interesting and fun-loving person, with much to give and share with the world and those around her, which she did so freely.

Memorial thoughts posted as news spread of the passing of Julie AscoopMemorial thoughts posted as news spread of the passing of Julie Ascoop

Her calmness was her super power. Over the past months she bore her illness with courage and optimism, continuing to work on sustainability plans for Irish Lights and furnishing the little family house by the lakes in The Netherlands right until the end. The poignant moment of silence observed after Dublin Bay Sailing Club dinghy racing on Tuesday 3rd May bears testament to the high esteem in which everyone held her.

She will be greatly missed by her partner Áine, her parents, Carl and Rita, her sisters Anouk and Cathy, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, extended family, work colleagues, a wide circle of friends and all the sailing communities to which she contributed - her wonderful sailing spirit will live on in all who knew her.

Charles Sargent

Published in IDRA 14, DMYC, DBSC
Afloat.ie Team

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About IDRA 14s

The Irish Dinghy Racing Association One Design or IDRA14 class is known for its convivial class association and affordable racing and great team spirit.

 

The IDRA14 class is 75 years old in 2021 with some original boats still racing but also entirely up to date with fibreglass boats, trapezes and spinnakers.

 

The races in summer and winter from three Dublin sailing clubs.

 

There are currently IDRA 14’s racing in Clontarf (CYBC), Sutton (SDC) and Dun Laoghaire (DMYC and RStGYC).

 

Boats are available in fibreglass and timber from approximately €1,500 ready to sail.

 

The IDRA 14s are working on plans to celebrate their 75th Anniversary in 2021.

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