Dun Laoghaire Regatta hailed as a spectacular success

But with Dublin Bay pretty much at capacity, what happens next in 2021?

Sailing yachts with their spinnakers up during the Volvo Dun Laoghaire regatta. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

If ever an advert for sailing was needed, the sight of 500 boats filling Dublin Bay on four consecutive days would surely fit the bill.

Racing yachts and dinghies, of hugely varying shapes and sizes, equally a range of talent and ability, visitors from near and far and some (mostly) balmy summer weather for good measure.

Whether competition or participation is the metric, last weekend’s biennial Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta has been widely hailed as a success and, even in the age of social media, finding negative comment is hard to come by.

Overall winners David Gorman with Chris Doorly from the National Yacht Club in the Flying 15 fleet proved that it isn’t all about the biggest racing boats though several of these were also in the running for the main prize.


However, the scale of the regatta and its delivery are most frequently spoken of; almost 300 volunteers plus dozens of club, marina and harbour staff delivered the most memorable large-scale event in this country since the heyday of the Cork Weeks almost two decades ago.

But with Dublin Bay pretty much at capacity, what happens next in 2021?

Officially, 498 boats participated although the actual entry was closer to 530 before cancellations. This equates to around 2,600 crew members on each of the four days, plus friends and visitors after racing ends.

Squeezing more out of the racing front seems improbable. Perhaps, a few more dinghies could be accommodated inshore and while the RS Elite fleet enjoyed an exclusive racing area, perhaps another one design class could be added next time.

There isn’t much scope for adding to the cruiser racer divisions and dayboat classes that mostly sailed in the centre and southern areas of the bay. Perhaps a few more boats might appear in the already popular coastal course that had plentiful space on the eastern fringes of the bay.

Suggestions of adding further starts to the format are certain to raise eyebrows amongst race management teams.

But non-competition boats such as the Old Gaffers and Classics could increase numbers and perhaps with family fun outings to say, Malahide and Greystones these could be handled without impacting too much on space within the bay.

Already, the Dublin Port Company assists with the regatta by closing the southern Vessel Separation Scheme and ships occupying the port’s anchorage were noticeably fewer than the peak usage of the economic boom.

At a stretch, perhaps up to 100 assorted boats of various sizes might take part in 2021 though 500 really does appear to be the magic number for the regatta’s capacity, at least in a four-day format.

Commercial solution

And yet, while the bay was thronged with boats, shoreside during the day was relatively deserted, normal enough for a sailing event but the lack of jammed footpaths and streets even after racing just serves to show that the sport is heavily biased towards participation afloat.

And yet shoreside activities, aside from the clubs catering internally for crews and their friends, are badly needed to draw larger crowds whose curiosity and willingness to try something new can drive fresh participation in sailing.

Achieving this scale probably requires a commercial solution rather than expecting already hugely committed volunteers to come up with a solution.

But providing entertainment and engagement isn’t so unusual and an already popular and well-known regatta is such an opportunity.

In truth, the regatta isn’t the only advert for sailing whether in Dun Laoghaire or anywhere in Ireland. Previous major events ranging from the Youth Sailing World Championships, Laser Masters Worlds, Volvo Ocean Race stop-overs in the past that have all brought significant tourism boosts, both in financial and publicity terms that are always welcome.

Next year will see the 300 th anniversary of the world’s oldest yacht club as the Royal Cork Yacht Club in Crosshaven prepares to share its celebrations internationally with a series of major events.

Perhaps the real question is when – or how – sailing as a broadly voluntary-led sport can capitalise on goodwill generated, challenge outdated stereotypes and translate all this into better media coverage, additional sponsorship and ultimately increase participation.


David Branigan

David Branigan

David Branigan is a contributor on sailing to The Irish Times