Crews gather in Dún Laoghaire for Sailability Ireland championships
President’s Cup event to be hosted by renamed Irish Disabled Sailing Association
Waves from the waves: Oisín Putt and Arthur Johnson at the Royal Irish Yacht Club. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Shane Barker (12) and Oisín Putt (12) became friends through basketball, but that friendship has bonded through a shared passion for dinghy sailing.
“Very exhilarating” is how Oisín describes the freedom he feels when he leaves his wheelchair behind to catch wind on water.
Both sailors are affiliated to Sailability Ireland, which aims to provide accessible sailing around the coast.
The two are also competing in the President’s Cup this weekend, when crews from all over Ireland gather at the Royal Irish Yacht Club (RIYC) in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.
Catching the wind doesn’t depend on good vision, hearing or physical prowess, so sailing is an activity in which people with and without a disability can contest on equal terms.
It was pioneered in Kinsale, Co Cork and has been developed at Galway Bay Sailing Club (GBSC), at the four waterfront clubs in Dún Laoghaire and in Belfast Lough.
The movement is spreading, with the support of the Irish Sailing Association (ISA). Earlier this summer, four yachts with 44 mixed-ability skippers and crew embarked on a circumnavigation of Ireland from Greencastle, Co Donegal, to demonstrate its potential.
The close water contact of dinghy sailing appeals to Shane and Oisín , and they are among the 25 young sailors who turn up every weekend in Dún Laoghaire and who participate in dedicated training camps.
West coast sailor Mark Henderson, who took up the sport through the Galway Speeders group, described how much he enjoyed the mental challenge last year, as “nothing is the same every time you go out”.
This year, the RIYC is hosting the fourth national championships.
The President’s Cup is a new award which will be given to the most successful province, with teams competing in several different categories of craft.
The Sailability fleet includes the Hansa, specially designed for the class, with a crew of two, and the 2.4R mini keelboats for singlehanded sailors.
Both craft are nimble and responsive, with the 2.4R noted for having a striking resemblance to scaled-down versions of America’s Cup yachts.
The 2.4R is “brilliant”, according to Shane who, like most of his peers, has his sights set on the Paralympics.
The RIYC and Sailability aim to have at least 16 boats on the water this weekend, weather permitting, and the support of all four waterfront clubs has been “terrific”, according to Royal St George Yacht Club representative Ian French.
The shelter provided by the twin arms of Dún Laoghaire harbour is ideal, although there is concern about the impact on events such as this of the proposed cruise liner berth.
The berth will effectively split the harbour in two, if built to plan.