Offshore the real concern


SAILING:The recent Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) annual meeting attracted a strong crowd to Cork to hear news of developments in the largest single section of the sport in Ireland. With around 600 boats certified, as many as 10,000 crew enjoy a programme of racing each year, varying from local club events to full-scale international competition.

With such a range of interests, contributions were starkly varied. The apparent conflicts between stripped-out, custom racing yachts and fast production boats once again were to the fore.

Almost to the same extent, a proper definition for the fastest-growing area of the sport, the white-sails fleet, was discussed.

Surprisingly, there was virtually no mention of offshore racing, those courses longer than an afternoon race but championed as being the essence of seamanship and ideally suited to the bulk of ICRA's fleet.

There was even a warning from the leading sailmaker Des McWilliam that the drop-off of interest at the cutting edge of the racing fleet as the white-sails fleet grows should be noted. The great many - up to half - potential racing boats remaining ashore for major events were ICRA's "budgies in the mine-shaft".

The meeting failed to grasp the nettle of maintaining a pulse in offshore racing, a division of the sport that enhances seamanship skills and offers as much reward for the achievement of participation as for a competitive win.

While the ICRA announced a number of passage races to events such as Cork Week, these feeder races cannot hold a candle to the main attraction itself, yet there was barely a passing reference to the country's greatest asset for offshore sailing.

Being formally announced at Wicklow Sailing Club tonight, the BMW Round Ireland Race could have benefited from a call to arms from the ICRA leadership to its membership to support the 705-mile classic.

We continue to wonder whether the double-booking of the Commodore's Cup in Cowes, at which the ICRA may be expected to field three teams, is too much of a distraction and that support for both overlapping events cannot be championed.

Not that a fleet of 40 or 50 boats isn't impressive - it is, especially when you consider the hundreds of competitors involved.

Yet in the context of a national fleet of more than 600 boats with IRC handicap certificates and a potential pool of about 10,000 sailors, is it wrong to wonder why the maximum entry of 100 boats is not reached each year?