Small is beautiful has become the new byword for one of the world’s best known sailing regattas this week.
For more than a decade, the drive out to Crosshaven along the Owenabue River culminated with the grand reveal of a forest of masts spread along four marinas and attached to a sprawling tented village as Cork Week. That drive would most likely have been in a park 'n'ride bus as the road would have been closed to facilitate the thousands of competitors and visitors that descended daily on the village.
This week, parking is free and plentiful. The tented village has shrunk to bare essentials of several chandleries, high-end fast food stands and one mid-size entertainment marquee.
Far from the giddy heights of the Celtic Tiger, the world’s oldest yacht club has gone back to basics. Afloat, little has changed other than the noticeable paucity of entries; barely 90 boats are racing on each of the four days of the regatta which itself has been reduced by one day. At its dizzy peak in 1998, Cork Week attracted upwards of 750 boats and there were even calls of “1,000 for 2,000”. But there were calls too for restrictions on numbers to ease congestion.
The massive fall-off in attendance hasn’t been limited to Cork Week according to Anthony O’Leary, Racing Director and a competitor. “We are the same as all other regattas,” he said citing events on both sides of the Atlantic. “It’s a challenge to everyone in the sailing world.”
The financial crisis and recession hit hard and while wallets have been affected, family lifestyles have also changed he said. The Royal Cork YC has tried to accommodate families as much as possible and has provided free camping facilities while the absence of crowds thronging the riverside village is certainly more appealing.
But the true appeal of Cork Week remained unaffected: the uncrowded waters that allow up to five course areas within a short distance of Crosshaven work. O’Leary points to the three International Race Officers that run the racing and even the weather, though light and tricky over the past two days would not be possible at other venues with strong tides such as The Solent.
“The club’s policy is that as long as it doesn’t lose money, then the club will host the regatta,” O’Leary said. “We are still a sailing club.”
That priority has drawn many good racing crews, some of which have found their own solutions to the congestion in Crosshaven in the peak years.
Rockabill V owner Paul O’Higgins has his entire team billeted in Cobh across the harbour and the crew commute to Crosshaven by RIB.
"It's definitely more economical to stay in Cobh," O'Higgins told The Irish Times. "It's fairly easy to do but as you move as a crew, it's not always possible to stay in Crosshaven after racing if some want an evening back at the house."
Other options include East Ferry and the new marina facility at Monkstown.
Now with a new title sponsor in Volvo Ireland, planning is in place to build the regatta in the lead-up to the RCYC’s 300th anniversary in 2020; another 50 boats in 2016 would be a manageable target.