Offshore association must change or face demise

 

SAILING:Edward Heath declared, in an often quoted line, offshore sailing was like standing under a shower tearing up five pound notes. Money - or the lack of it - has been a frequent excuse for lack of success on the race track but in recent times offshore fixtures at club level have suffered in reverse, from a dearth of crews who are cash rich but time poor.

Success in the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR), the Fastnet, Sydney-Hobart, Med Cup, Round Britain and Ireland, Azores and Back (AZAB) - plus the current lead in the Barcelona world race - have all been notched up by pro and amateur Irish crews.

A tot of Irish sailing's trophy haul reveals a healthy offshore account. It is an elevated position that has inspired the entire sailing community and it makes this month's decision to try to shut down the club that spawned it all the more bewildering.

The domestic offshore fleet has dwindled to the extent Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association (ISORA) chairman John Rose gave notice to nine clubs on both sides of the Irish sea that November's agm would be the last. It was bad enough that Rose would cite a "lack of interest" in offshore sailing as the main reason behind the motion, but the mere mention of possible legal exposure of its officers when running races - as a reason for dissolving the 30-year-old association - was inconceivable to many who knew it to be as safe as any other adventure sport.

It is no secret the Irish Sea scene has changed. Recent times have a seen a shift inshore towards cruiser racer courses lasting little over an hour, rarely venturing outside the Burford bank. Big boats are now optimised for inshore racing only.

Today, most offshore fixtures are event-based such as the biennial BMW Round Ireland. There are more stringent safety regulations for going offshore, even if it is only 30 miles or so.

The damage to fleets is even worse across the Irish Sea where, paradoxically as Welsh facilities such as marinas have improved, racing has declined.

Buoyed by headline performances in this year's Fastnet by Ger O'Rourke's Chieftain and a core of Dublin Bay die-hards, Dún Laoghaire's Peter Ryan countered Rose's motion with a proposal that the National Yacht Club would take over ISORA's affairs on a caretaker basis.

In spite of the unanimous support Ryan received from the nine clubs involved, he knew it was a last-ditch attempt to breathe new life into an organisation that had been stuck in its ways. Unless ISORA changes it will die.

Significantly change appears to be on the way with this month's coincidental news both the Irish Cruiser Racer Association (ICRA) and Cork Week are factoring in offshore fixtures in their line-ups next May and July respectively. Ryan is also supported by Dublin's Lee Overlay offshore series and the Royal Alfred YC in his efforts to pull all interested parties together.

When offshore results are held up against the drab performances offered elsewhere (including those in receipt of government funding), the majority of world-class performances fielded in the past decade have come from the offshore discipline.Next year Ireland will enter the Volvo Ocean race in an €8 million entry, Irish sailing's biggest ever splash. By supporting the new investment in ISORA, Ryan will argue, we are supporting the exciting future of Irish ocean racing.

The Irish Times agricultural correspondent Seán MacConnell signed up on board the Jeanie Johnston to recreate the Flight of the Earls voyage to France in September. The diary of his journey is in the Cork Dry Gin Afloat Christmas Sailing Annual published this week 6.50). Also published this week is Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company's A3 calendar.